Friday, August 29, 2008

Bourbon tour, October 2-4

I'm told that American Table Culinary Tours is having trouble filling up its Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, scheduled for October 2-4. If you're interested, you have to register by next Wednesday, September, 3. The web site says Monday, but the Director of the group tells me they can take registrations until Wednesday.

The nice thing about a tour like this is that you don't have to drive. The distilleries are pretty spread out and if you have to drive everywhere, that could interfere with you-know-what.

Anyway, the details are here.

For more general information about traveling to America's whiskey country, go here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tours Begin October 1.

The historic Tom Moore Distillery (formerly known as Barton), home of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, has joined the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and will begin offering tours on Oct. 1, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced today.

The Bardstown landmark is owned and operated by Constellation Spirits, the former Barton Brands, Ltd. It was founded by Tom Moore in 1879. Its super premium 1792 brand bourbon is named for the year Kentucky gained statehood.

"We’re excited and proud that visitors will be able to get a behind-the-scenes look at what our employees do best – make excellent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey," said Johnnie Colwell, Vice President and Plant Manager of Constellation Spirits.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was formed in 1999 and has become one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, said Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers' Association. Visitors come from all 50 states and 25 countries, he said.

This is the first time the Trail has grown past its original seven founding members. The Tom Moore Distillery joins Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.

"It’s an exciting time to be part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and we’re thrilled that Constellation Spirits has joined," said Gregory.

Located near downtown Bardstown, the Tom Moore Distillery’s walking tour will showcase its entire bourbon-making process, from distilling to aging to bottling, Colwell said. "It will be an up-close look at the best kept secret in Kentucky," he said.

Plans also are underway for a visitor’s center to open in 2010.

Tours will be offered on weekdays at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (502) 348-3774 at least one day in advance. Participants must be at least 21 years old.

Constellation Brands, Inc., based in Fairport, N.Y., has more than 250 brands of wine, spirits and beer with sales in 150 countries. To learn more about the company and its products, visit their web site at (As I'm posting this, that website isn't working, but the old Barton Inc. one still is.)

To learn more about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, visit

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rye Balls.

Fred Noe was in Chicago last week and we spent a little time together. Fred is the great-grandson of Jim Beam and the son of Booker Noe, a legendary whiskey-maker who died in 2004. Fred splits his time between the distilleries in Kentucky and the road, where he promotes Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and other Beam hooch.

Although they haven't owned the company since Prohibition, the Beam family is key to the success of Jim Beam Bourbon. A lot of that rests on Fred. Fred has showmanship, but is he the real deal? As the Jim Beam advertising campaign says, “It’s the stuff inside that counts.” Does Fred Noe have the stuff inside?

Yes, he does. If Fred Noe were any more real he’d be bourbon.

Fred learned whiskey-making from his father and cousins, just like his father learned it from his uncles, who learned it from their fathers or uncles, all the way back to Jacob Beam in the 18th century. There are scads of Jacob Beam descendants but the Beam company likes to focus on Jim's line. Only one of Jim’s three children, his daughter, Margaret Beam Noe, had children. That’s where we get Fred and his cousin, Jim Beam Noe, who is a manager at the distillery.

Although Fred isn’t at the distillery every day, he knows about the important stuff.

Like rye balls.

Rye whiskey was America’s first whiskey and, historically, many bourbon distilleries also made rye. Jim Beam was one of them. They have made straight rye whiskey at least since the company was reconstituted after Prohibition. Beam is coming out soon with a new super-premium straight rye (more about that when they do it), so Fred and I got to talking about making rye.

Although bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn, and rye must be at least 51 percent rye, bourbon is usually more like 70-75 percent corn, but the same is not true of rye. Most straight rye, including Beam’s, is “barely legal” at just 51 percent. I’ve always wondered how come?

One reason is taste. Rye has a very strong flavor and more rye doesn’t necessarily mean more flavor. A little goes a long way. Cost is another reason. Rye costs about twice as much as corn. Fred mentioned another one.

Rye balls.

The reason you don’t want to use any more rye than you have to, Fred explained, just enough to get that full, rich, spicy rye flavor, is because rye can be hard to work with. Some of the dry clumps of ground grain don’t break up when they go into the mash. Instead, "they form rye balls," says Fred. "They don’t break up and they stay dry inside, which allows bacteria to grow." Bacteria means off flavors. "Using more rye doesn’t give you more flavor, it just causes you more trouble," says Fred.

I know many members of the Beam family. Some who aren’t making whiskey feel like they should be and most who are can’t imagine doing anything else.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kentucky Traveler Alert: Summer Shut-Down.

Last month, I encouraged you to visit Kentucky, especially the distilleries. Today I received a report from someone who did just that and had a mixed experience.

At Buffalo Trace he happened into a Hard Hat Tour just getting ready to embark. The Hard Hat Tour normally has to be scheduled in advance, but he got lucky and had a great experience.

He visited Woodford Reserve but didn't take the tour, since he'd taken it before, but everything there seemed to be operating normally.

At Four Roses, he enjoyed the visitor's center and free tasting, but no tours were offered. That's really too bad, since the Four Roses Distillery tour is one of the best. The reason? Summer shut-down.

At Wild Turkey he was really bummed. "The nice 'tour' guide (none of this is her fault) was only able to offer a video and a description of the buildings," said my correspondent. The reason? Summer shut-down.

Most distilleries do shut down during the hottest part of the summer. It's traditional, because whiskey-making can be very hot work, but it's insane if they don't keep their visitor's operations going even during summer shut down, since that just happens to come at the height of the tourist season.

I'm sure people will be disappointed if things aren't running, but people understand that. They would still like to see the still, see the cistern room, see the fermenters, see the grain silos, and have the process explained to them. How tough is it to keep a barrel house open? Even if it's summer shut down and nothing is running, they should show everything that doesn't have to be off-limits because of major maintenance. That's just ridiculous. Shame on them.

To keep a gift shop open but not give a real tour is just insulting to visitors.

Wild Turkey is supposed to be upgrading its visitor center soon, but they need to address these operational issues that have nothing to do with the facility. I've heard of this happening to other people at Turkey, though most of the time people have a wonderful experience there. I'm really surprised at Four Roses, who usually is tops in visitor care.

If shut down came at a time of the year when tourism also was low I could see it, but summer shut down comes at exactly the height of tourist season.

The traditional summer shut down is something the distilleries might want to reconsider now that they've started to promote tourism hard. They invite a guest into their home then slam the door in their face. That can't be good for business.

If you are planning a trip, especially between now and Labor Day, call ahead.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Rep Panders Too.

I've given it to my State Senator Heather Steans lately here and elsewhere.

But I shouldn't let Greg Harris off the hook. He's my state representative (D-13th) and he and Senator Steans are close allies. If my pet peeve with her is the Alcopop Law, which he supported, my pet peeve against him is the civil unions bill, HB1826, which she also supports. She bragged about Alcopop in her Legislative Update a few days ago. He brags about HB1826 in the one I received from him today.

Hummm. Direct mail Legislative Updates? Is there an election soon? Sure enough, both Harris and Steans will be on the November ballot. Steans is running to complete the balance of Carol Ronen's term. (I wrote about that sweet piece of business here.) All rep seats are up this year.

So what do I have against civil unions? Nothing, except in Illinois, and apparently some other states, legislators have gotten civil unions passed by expressly permitting heterosexual seniors to use civil unions to scam Social Security. I've written at length about this issue before, so I won't go into a lot about it here. Suffice it to say I think it taints the righteousness of demanding equal spousal privileges for same sex couples.

Finally, I plead with you to pay as much attention to your local elections as you do to the presidential race. The your-vote to effect-on-your-life ratio is much greater for elections that are closer to you, like for your representatives in the state legislature.

Explore the Science of Cocktails Next Wednesay, 8/20, at the Mid America Club.

Ever wonder how to keep carbonation in champagne? Why do bartenders always pour the alcohol in first and then the mixer? Does garnish influence the taste of a cocktail?

Wonder no longer. “Mistology: The Science Behind the Cocktail,” is coming to Chicago on Wednesday, August 20, 7:00 p.m., at The Mid America Club. It is open to anyone who is at least 21-years-old and the cost is $15.00. It is sponsored by Canadian Mist whisky. All proceeds benefit Heartland Alliance, an organization that assists the poor and vulnerable with housing, health care, human services, and human rights protection.

The host for the evening is Tim Laird, who calls himself Chief Entertaining Officer (CEO). He’ll explain not just the how of cocktail preparation but also the why. You can try your hand at mixing, or just taste the efforts of the professionals. Appetizers are included too. Space is limited. To reserve your spot email, or call 1-800-268-7266.

The Mid-America Club is on the 80th floor of the Aon Center. That’s the building at the corner of Michigan and Randolph with the diamond-shaped roof line.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What Clients Are Really Like, Really.

I have worked in advertising/marketing/corporate communications for about 35 years. This is what it's like, really. This video is widely posted on the web, but I can't find a source for it. The only actor I recognize is Al Samuel, who plays Al Click on the syndicated comedy show, "Sports Action Team." He plays the male client representative. Although I think he's a Chicago guy, that's all I know and there my search ends. Enjoy the video.

Senator Heather Steans, For The Children.

Although she downplayed it in an email to me, writing that "there are far more serious problems we need to tackle," Illinois State Senator Heather Steans (D-7th) continues to boast about her role in "banning promotion of alcoholic energy drinks to children." Since no one was promoting alcoholic energy drinks to children in the first place, I guess she can claim success.

I happen to live in Senator Steans' district.

Of the five legislative accomplishments she chose to tout in her Legislative Update sent to constituents last week, this one ranked second:

This spring, I was chief sponsor of legislation that prohibits the marketing of energy drinks containing alcohol to children and requires improved labeling to assist parents and businesses with identifying these products which are not safe for children.

It came after one headlined "Ending Pay-to-Play Politics" and before "Working to Eliminate Poverty." Senator Steans is nothing if not ambitious.

But her work on the so-called Alcopops Law (235 ILCS 5/6-35) is a non-solution to a non-problem.

This sort of thing drives me crazy because it falsely accuses the good people of the beverage alcohol industry of seeking to harm children, a serious and completely baseless charge, made for the purpose of pandering to parents, including some who want to blame their children's substance abuse problems on someone other than their children and themselves, and who better?

These charges are also an attack on the advertising industry. Since for a long time I worked in the advertising industry on alcohol accounts, I take this personally.

Who in government doesn't blame marketing and marketers? How about the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which investigates such things and has consistently found that the beverage alcohol industry does not market to underage consumers. Instead of falling for neo-prohibitionist propaganda like Senator Steans does, read the FTC's most-recent report here. (Right-click to download the PDF.)

Critics will, of course, dismiss the FTC as in the pocket of Big Alcohol, and Senator Steans knows all about that since she is the scourge of "Pay-to-Play," but in its 86-page report the FTC found little to fault in the performance of alcohol marketers, and while it made some common sense recommendations for improvement, none of them involve anything like the measures of which Senator Steans is so proud.

The Legislative Update gave this additional example of Senator Steans wasting government resources to make it look like she's doing something "for the children." It announced her co-sponsorship of a bill creating the Illinois Commission on Children and Youth.

Illinois achieved statehood on December 3, 1818 and I can't imagine how her children and youth have survived 190 years without this commission.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

America's Whiskey Makers Are Cautiously Optimistic.

An Associated Press article from about a month ago just came to my attention. I wrote essentially the same story for WHISKY Magazine, but you can't access mine online like you can this one (as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle).

As Bruce Schreiner writes, "distillers are expanding their bourbon production and storage, and dispatching sales teams around the world, bullish for a traditionally Southern beverage gaining popularity worldwide. Surging exports, the weak U.S. dollar and rising popularity among younger Americans are driving the boom."

Virtually every producer is increasing capacity. Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark, Jack Daniel's and Heaven Hill are all adding production capacity.

This expansion is literally unprecedented. The last time the industry grew like this is when it was getting back on its feet after World War II. The same sort of expansion is going on in Scotland. Whiskey is notoriously hard to forecast because of the long aging cycle, so at best people are cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

German Scientists Over-Analyze Bourbon.

According to Chemistry World, researchers based in Germany have picked out the molecules responsible for the aroma of Kentucky bourbon, in order to understand - and perhaps control - the spirit's flavor.

German scientists want to improve bourbon. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Good Gag, But With A Catch.

Go ahead and watch the video above, but don't follow the link back to the web site until you read the rest of this.

This is a good gag, a very good gag, so good that many people are doing it and, in the process, giving this company the email addresses of all their friends, for who knows what purpose, as somebody did to me. The company is a legitimate marketing company and they admit in the small print that they are going to send you email. There is an opt-out option, blah blah blah, but the gag is so good 99% of people will blithely give out the email addresses of all of their friends.

When you get something like this, as I did today, it's because a friend did exactly that.

But it is a really good gag, spoiled only slightly because I feel I need to warn you about the spam part. I have not given this outfit the email addresses of any of my friends, but I did give them both of mine. (They already had one of them.) You may be tempted to do the same, but be forewarned. They’re doing this to get email addresses for subsequent marketing campaigns for their website and possibly other advertisers. If you can live with that then do what I did, play the “prank” on yourself. You have to give up your email address, maybe more than one. (I used one as “my” address and the other as my “friend’s” address.) Then you can send the link to your friends without giving their email addresses away.

If you do it their way, your friend receives an email that looks like it came from you, with a link to a web site. Here is the email I would have sent.

Dear Concerned Voter,

This happened so fast and seemed so unbelievable that I haven't had a chance to tell anybody, but apparently you will hear about it soon enough.


Chuck Cowdery

You can see the web site about me here, which is all perfectly safe unless you volunteer more information. Oh, they'll probably plant some cookies, but no worse than every other web site you use, including this one. It's even more effective when you see it on the web site.

As I said, the sponsor appears to be a legitimate marketing company and is doing everything by the book. Their privacy policy is here.

There is no law against being clever, at least not yet.

Why the World Hates Us.

This is an addendum to my post last Thursday. Here we have yet another reason why the rest of the world hates us. We have so much of everything, we have to pass new laws because even our poor people are too fat.