Monday, October 14, 2019

My Favorite Dad Joke



This is not a traditional 'Dad Joke.' It just happens to be my favorite joke told to me by my dad, Ken Cowdery (1920-2010).

It is about a father and son. The son lives in town, the father lives alone on the family farm several miles outside of town. Every day, as is his custom, the father walks into town, purchases a pint of whiskey, and walks back to his farm. For years, the son has enjoyed this daily opportunity to at least observe his father from his office window, but recently he has noticed that time is catching up with the old man. His stride has shortened and his gait has slowed. The daily walk has become a chore for him.

The son, being a devoted son and not wanting to see his father suffer (and having failed for years to persuade his father to abandon the farm and move to town), decides there is at least one small way he can give his poor father some relief. He purchases a 1.75 L bottle of his father’s favorite whiskey, drives out to the farm and gives his father the gift. The father, never a demonstrative man, accepts the gift and thanks his son, who returns to town.

The next day the son, still basking in the glow of his thoughtful deed, looks out the window to see his father once again walking into town. Moreover, his father seems to have aged ten years. His skin is pallid, his clothing is disheveled and he is walking with even move difficulty than usual. The son immediately rushes to his father’s side. “Dad,” he cries, “What are you doing? I brought you that bottle of whiskey so you wouldn’t have to make this walk every day.” The father slowly raises his head and looking directly into his sons eyes, whispers in a quiet voice, “Son, whiskey don’t keep.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Van Winkle Family Asks Retailers and Resellers to Play Nice



I usually don't reproduce press releases here, but I found this one interesting. No other brand has these kinds of issues.

*  *  *  *  *

             FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (Oct. 10, 2019) – This is the favorite time of the year for bourbon fans, the annual release of the Van Winkle Bourbons.  Like previous years, yields from the barrels are low due to evaporation during the long aging cycle. 

            Known for their smoother and sweeter flavor due to the wheat recipe versus the traditional rye recipe found in most bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are aged years longer than most others and have garnered an impeccable reputation among connoisseurs.  Although  bourbon has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent years, very little Van Winkle is sold overseas, so that these coveted bottles are available in the United States.
 
The Van Winkle collection consists of several whiskeys. Suggested retail prices are as follows:

$69.99 - Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
$79.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
$119.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old
$119.99 - Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
$199.99 - Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
$299.90 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old

“Unfortunately we cannot control the price retailers charge, so some retailers mark it up beyond our MSRP, even though we ask them not to,” said Julian Van Winkle, president, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. “We are committed to releasing a quality product and hope retailers will honor what we suggest as a fair retail price.”

Upon release of the Van Winkle bourbon this fall, Buffalo Trace warns consumers to be wary of online resellers such as Craigslist and other online marketplaces, especially private Facebook and MeWe groups. “Trading and selling bourbon online is an unlicensed and illegal sale.  Purchasing bourbon online from unlicensed parties is dangerous.  The product may be counterfeit and unsafe.  If you are not a licensed retailer and you are selling Van Winkle products, we are prepared to take action to curtail the activity,” adds Kris Comstock, senior marketing director at Buffalo Trace Distillery. 

The Van Winkle line of whiskeys has won a multitude of awards through the years, including the 20-year-old receiving a double gold medal, best bourbon, best small batch bourbon at the 2018 New York International Spirits Competition; the 15-year-old being named Best Bourbon, 11-15 Years Old in the 2019 Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, and also nabbing a Gold Medal at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

The Van Winkle Whiskeys will be available starting in November, but please be mindful that supply is quite limited and bottles shall be hard to find in stores, bars and restaurants. They will be packed three bottles per case.

About Van Winkle Bourbon

The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also partnered with Mr. A. Ph. Stitzel on the purchase of Mr. Stitzel’s distillery.  The three of them merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.   

In May of 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. Its prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.  Pappy had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were sold to Norton Simon, Inc. Later, United Distillers, who eventually ended up with the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, sold off all of the original labels around 1999. 

After selling the distillery, Julian Jr. resurrected a pre-Prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He used whiskey stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. Julian Jr.’s son, Julian, III took over in 1981 when Julian, Jr. passed away. Julian III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing high-quality wheated bourbon. His son, Preston, joined the company in 2001 and the Van Winkles look to continue that tradition for generations to come.

In 2002 the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with Buffalo Trace Distillery in Franklin County, Frankfort, Ky. All of the Van Winkle’s whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace Distillery under the same strict guidelines the family has always followed. For more information on the Van Winkle family of bourbon please visit www.oldripvanwinkle.com.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Can Pennsylvania Become the Kentucky of Rye Whiskey?


Whiskey rebels tar-and-feather a tax collector during the Whiskey Rebellion
(1791-1794)
What is creativity?

Some say it is the act of combining two or more things that haven’t been combined before, or combining them in a new way, thereby making something beneficial and new.

Somebody put peanut butter and jelly together for the first time.

Alcoholic beverages often are combined with other things, food obviously, but also history and culture.

That is the set-up for what the recently launched Whiskey Rebellion Trail is trying to accomplish. It is ambitious and risky, and a conceptual stretch, but they just might pull it off, as we consider in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader.

The Whiskey Rebellion Trail has three main parts: the Rebellion itself, the region’s rye whiskey heritage, and its booming craft distillery movement.

The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) was, of course, a historic event of great importance to the early life of the American republic. Seemingly unrelated is the modern craft distillery movement. The thread that pulls all the pieces together is Pennsylvania’s historic importance as a producer of rye whiskey, produced there then and produced there now. As the popularity of rye whiskey has surged in the last few years, Pennsylvania distillers have tried to help Pennsylvania own rye whiskey the way Kentucky owns bourbon. That’s a high bar but worthy.

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

Founded in 1994, 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 5.

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.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

That Old Story About Pappy, Maker's Mark, and Old Fitzgerald



What goes around comes around, even if it takes 35 years.

Today, someone asked about "the Pappy, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny turn of events. Pretty interesting story that I've heard numerous times from multiple folks in the industry. In short Old Fitz is pretty much Pappy lol."

I may be to blame, as at least one of the original sources for that story, and maybe the only one.

Many years ago, before I even started to write about bourbon, when I lived in Louisville, I had a friend who had worked in the marketing department at Old Fitzgerald (AKA Stitzel-Weller) when it was still an independent distillery owned by the Van Winkle family. His boss was Pappy Van Winkle. As my friend told the story, Bill Samuels Sr. and Pappy Van Winkle were close friends. Bill told Pappy he was planning to start up the old distillery that became Maker's Mark. Pappy supposedly gave him the Old Fitz recipe and said, "make this and charge an arm and a leg for it. You won't bother me because that's not my business." Years later, I told Bill Jr. the story and he more or less confirmed and expanded on it, saying his dad solicited advice from a lot of people. He said Pappy also gave his dad the Old Fitz yeast, but the first distiller at Maker's, Elmo Beam, brought his own yeast, which had at any event its roots with Elmo's father, Joe Beam, whose brother-in-law, Will McGill, was master distiller at Old Fitz, so the two yeasts were very similar.

My friend's point in telling me the story was simply that if I liked Maker's Mark (which I did) I should try Old Fitzgerald (which I did) because it was almost the same and quite a bit less expensive.

In those days, of course, Old Fitzgerald was still made at Stitzel-Weller, although the Van Winkles no longer owned it. In 1992, that distillery was closed and Old Fitzgerald production moved to the new Bernheim Distillery. When the Van Winkle bourbons sold by Pappy's grandson became the phenomenon they are today, the whiskey literally was Old Fitzgerald. In 2003, Van Winkle production moved to Buffalo Trace and although they continued to bottle whiskey made at Stitzel-Weller, that was gradually replaced by whiskey made at Buffalo Trace, so today the only sense in which "Old Fitz is pretty much Pappy" is that they are both wheated and both have their roots on Fitzgerald Road.

In 1999, the Old Fitzgerald brand was sold to Heaven Hill, along with the Bernheim Distillery. Buffalo Trace acquired the Weller brand at the same time, so these days it is more correct to say "Weller is pretty much Pappy." However, every brand is a function of its flavor profile, what the distiller chooses to put in the bottle, so Pappy and Weller are not the same thing, but if you seek good whiskey and not just the status of acquiring a unicorn brand, it's good to know the origins of those products.

In 2012, Heaven Hill introduced Larceny, which is the same liquid as Old Fitzgerald but with a different flavor profile. Although Old Fitzgerald is still made, it has mostly been replaced by Larceny.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Judge Calls for ‘Just, Speedy and Inexpensive’ Action in Rum Fungus Case that Seems To Be Going Nowhere


Fungus on the warehouses at Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Over the years, I have written many times about Baudoinia compniacensis, the harmless fungus that grows well in the presence of ethanol vapor. It is commonly called the ‘whiskey fungus’ because it is found on or near whiskey maturation warehouses everywhere whiskey is made. You can find some of my past comments on the subject here, here, and here.

And it's not just whiskey, of course, but all aged spirits, including rum. Today the St. Thomas Source reported on a case there against Diageo, and Beam Suntory through its Cruzan subsidiary. As the Source reported, "the two manufacturers are accused of allowing rum fungus to migrate out of their plants and trespass onto residents’ homes and property."

Although the islands are part of the United States, these suits are filed in Superior Court, which hears cases brought under Virgin Islands law. The 'just, speedy and inexpensive' order actually was issued in 2018 and the case had been knocking around for several years before that. The order issued last Friday lays out some new action steps but the case really doesn't seem any closer to resolution.

All available scientific evidence says the fungus is harmless. It has been known and observed for more than a century. As the popularity of aged spirits has grown, so have aging inventories, which has led to more fungus in more places, and more awareness of it. For distillery neighbors it is an unsightly nuisance, but for distillers it can be a public relations nightmare.

Friday, August 23, 2019

When 'All' Doesn't Actually Mean 'All'



It's right there on their home page, in the upper left-hand corner: "Kentucky Distillers' Association (Est. 1880). Responsible for Promoting and Protecting All Things Bourbon."

That's what is known as a 'mission statement.' By their nature, mission statements are aspirational. Use of the word 'responsible' conveys a sense of duty.

But that's not the word causing a problem with this noble sentiment. It's the word 'all.' The Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA) has no interest in "promoting and protecting all things bourbon." The KDA is only interested in promoting and protecting those 'bourbon things' that flow from it and its member companies.

About 70 percent of all the bourbon made is made by four companies. One of those companies, Sazerac, resigned from the KDA ten years ago. The reasons were many. In the end, Sazerac looked at the cost of membership and decided it could spend that money better by itself. A decade on, they seem to have been right.

Sazerac operates two bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and Barton 1792 in Bardstown, both of which do heavy tourism business. It has a small maturation facility and massive bottling plant in Owensboro. Although the corporation is based in Louisiana, it is run from Kentucky. It is big and getting bigger. Buffalo Trace alone is in the midst of a $1.2 billion expansion. It already owns the largest still in bourbondom, at 84 inches, and plans to add another one the same size.

Not long after Sazerac left the KDA, the KDA sued to stop Sazerac from using the term 'Kentucky Bourbon Trail,' which the KDA had trademarked. As far as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is concerned, Sazerac's distilleries don't exist. Despite that, Sazerac's distilleries consistently add visitors at a higher rate than the rest of the state.

It's not just Sazerac that is excluded from KDA's 'all.' It has expressed its displeasure with other 'things bourbon' that it does not control, such as Louisville's annual Bourbon Classic. It has gotten in the way of regional tourism authorities that want to promote their bourbon assets (KDA members or not). It even tried to trademark the words 'Drink Kentucky Bourbon,' so no one could use them without KDA's permission. (That failed.)

I have been persona non grata with KDA since I criticized its Bourbon Affair about five years ago.

The KDA does a lot of good, but the KDA is a membership organization and it operates solely to advance the interests of its members. Nothing wrong with that, it's what you expect any club to do, but claiming to 'promote and protect all things bourbon' is hubris at best, hypocrisy at worst.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

What Would Owsley Think?



I saw this in Walgreens the other day. Maybe not this brand, but this fragrance. Whiskey & Tobacco. At first blush, that doesn't seem like a good choice for a scented candle. I certainly have been in many rooms redolent with the scents of actual whiskey and tobacco. I can't say it was edifying.

I think I would be more disposed to burn a scented candle to mask, rather than reproduce, the aroma of whiskey and tobacco.

But maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. I'm reminded of an interview I did with Owsley Brown, president of Brown-Forman, makers of Jack Daniel's, Old Forester, Early Times, Woodford Reserve, and many other whiskeys. Owsley Brown was the great-grandson of Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown. He spent 37 years working for the company, but he told me about his memories of visiting the distillery as a child.

Today, the corporate campus in Louisville, on Dixie Highway just south of West Broadway, houses only offices and bottling. Distillation and maturation happen elsewhere. In Owsley Brown's youth (he was born in 1942), everything was done at Dixie Highway, and Brown-Forman's plant was right next door to a huge Philip-Morris cigarette factory.


Mr. Brown told me he enjoyed his childhood visits to the distillery. He described them as "magical." He recalled the musical cacophony of the bottling line, and how the women who worked there always made a fuss over him. (Bottling line staff in those days were mostly women.) And he remembered the smell, the aroma of the whiskey mingling with the tobacco scents from next door.

Since Owsley Brown died in 2011, we can't ask him if this candle brings back any happy childhood memories, or if it is more in tune with my decadent adult pursuits. I guess we'll never know.