Friday, May 28, 2010

Visit Louisville Without Leaving Home.

In addition to being a big fan of Kentucky-made whiskey, I'm fond of Kentucky itself as a place to visit. Some of the best parts are the parks and other natural areas, which are great for hiking, camping, canoing, bike-riding and so forth.

The flip side of that is Louisville, a small (relative to, say, Chicago) city with a lot to see and do. One nice thing about Louisville (again, relative to Chicago) is that it is inexpensive. Everything--from hotel rooms, to restaurant meals, to parking--is a bargain.

The Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau does a good job of promoting all that the Louisville area has to offer. This summer they're taking their show on the road to nearby states, which would be Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee.

It's called the Takin' it to the Streets Tour and may be coming to a mall near you. Go here for the schedule.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How We Almost Lost Bourbon and Rye.

In 1972, a new type of whiskey debuted in the United States. It was called ‘light whiskey.’ Light whiskey was supposed to save the American whiskey industry from unfair foreign competition. It was a drink made like the imports but tailored to American tastes. It was expected to capture 10 to 12 percent of the U.S. distilled spirits market by 1982.

It didn’t. Light whiskey was a huge failure.

But it could have been a lot worse.

Today American straight whiskeys, in particular bourbon and rye, are popular all over the world. It wasn't always that way. At one point about 40 years ago, it got so bad that some of the largest bourbon and rye makers wanted to fundamentally alter the product to, in their minds, make it more competitive with the imported scotch and Canadian whiskeys that were eating their lunch.

They wanted to abandon flavorful low-proof distillation, low-proof barrel entry, and aging in new, charred oak barrels.

Some producers--the smaller, family-owned, Kentucky-based ones mostly--objected. If the majority had ruled, the rules would have been changed, but the federal government regulators decided to leave those standards alone. Instead they created a new category with the specifications the large producers wanted, and called it light whiskey. It bombed, big time.

If it had gone the other way, if the feds had yielded to the big producers and changed the rules, bourbon and rye as we know them would have disappeared. They would have missed the revival that began in the late 1980s. Today they would be but a distant memory.

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

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Employees At Beam Global Frankfort Toast Expansion.

I love a company that gets all of its employees together in the middle of the week for a drink.

The occasion Wednesday was an official unveiling ceremony for plans to expand Beam Global’s facility in Frankfort, Kentucky. When completed in the fall of 2011, the expansion will double the facility’s production size and capacity, and bring 120 new jobs to the area, increasing the workforce to 365.

Kentucky Governor Steven L. Beshear and Beam Global President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew J. Shattock hosted the party.

Beam’s Frankfort plant has a scenic location at the fork in Elkorn Creek. A distillery has been on that site since 1869. Beam stopped distilling there when they bought the place in 1987 as part of the acquisition of National Distillers. They continue to use the aging warehouses and bottling plant. The company’s only other U.S. spirits bottling plant is at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.

About 160 Beam Global products will be bottled at Frankfort after the expansion, which corresponds with the closing of a Beam facility in Cincinnati. The expanded plant will have an annual capacity of 10 million cases, representing an increase from 24 percent to 32 percent of Beam Global’s total worldwide case volume.

The project, which includes the addition of four new bottling lines and approximately 65 new tanks, will allow Frankfort to assume production and bottling of DeKuyper cordials. Other brands bottled there include Sauza, the world’s number two-selling Tequila, and Canadian Club, one of the world’s leading Canadian whiskies.

Some Thoughts On The ADI Craft American Whiskey Competition.

Last week, when I published the results of the American Distilling Institute (ADI) 2010 Craft American Whiskey competition, I wrote that I would post my thoughts on the brouhaha later.

Here are two.

First, ADI's on line bulletin board has been silent on the subject. The ADI has not even posted the results, there or on its primary web site. Nor has anyone on the bulletin board (which is open to the public) started a thread about that or any other aspect of the conference. Odd?

Whiskey Intelligence, a web site dedicated to posting any whiskey-related press release they receive, (I'm not being snarky, that's their mission statement.) has posted last week's ADI email in its entirety here.

Second, ADI with its dysfunctional competition seems to be saying this: "As the collective voice of a new generation of progressive artisan craft distillers, we would like you to actually make, from scratch, the products you enter in the Craft American Whiskey competition. But if you want to go down to the corner store, buy a bottle of Old Grand-Dad, put your name on it and enter that instead, that's cool too."

American Craft Distilling is a young movement. In being critical, I'm not trying to strangle the baby in its crib. On the contrary, I'm trying to convince the baby not to commit suicide.

The New Bourbon Country Reader Is On Its Way.

I was a little slow in getting out this issue of the newsletter. It's about a month late. Sorry about that. But by waiting I was able to report in detail about the innovative new bourbon from Maker's Mark, Maker's Mark 46, which should start to appear in stores in July. I report the complete, inside story of its development.

In case you're scoring at home, the new Bourbon Country Reader is Volume 12, Number 6, which completes Volume 12.

This time we look forward with Maker's 46, but we also look back and explore the history of 'light whiskey,' a failed experiment but one that may actually have saved bourbon and rye as we know them. It's an amazing story.

We also review a brand new bourbon cookbook. We like it. And, in fact, I do speak for everyone here at Reader Tower.

What? You say you don't receive The Bourbon Country Reader? It's very nostalgic, as it comes on paper, in an envelope, in the mail. (That's what the little box outside your front door is for.)

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

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beam's "Distillers Tree" Is a Major Contribution to Whiskey History.

The Beams are the Kennedys of American whiskey. Members of the Beam family have worked at dozens of different distilleries. Virtually every major brand on the market today can find a Beam somewhere in its history.

This heritage, of course, reflects most proudly on Jim Beam Bourbon itself, which is why they have produced the interactive Distillers Tree. Naturally they highlight those family members in Jim Beam's direct line, but they don't short the others, with one exception.

In addition to David M. and Joseph B., David Beam had a third distiller son, John, better known as Jack, who started a Nelson County distillery called Early Times. That brand is owned today by arch rival Brown-Forman, which also owns Jack Daniel's.

But I won't let that blemish spoil my enjoyment of this wonderful contribution to the preservation and dissemination of American whiskey's true history.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bourbon Monday, Single Malts Wednesday.

I'm teaching a Bourbon class this coming Monday, May 17th, at Rocks Lincoln Park (1301 West Schubert). Then on Wednesday, May 19th, I'm teaching a Single Malt Scotch class at the Hye Bar (3707 North Southport). The classes start at 7:00 PM, include tasting, and last about a hour, although the nice thing about doing them in a bar is that you can continue to 'learn' after the class concludes.

All of these classes are "an introduction to..."

Would it sound cooler if I said I'm "conducting a bourbon tasting workshop"? Does "teaching a class" sound too academic?

I'm doing this through I Wish Lessons. To attend, or get more information, go to their web site and click on "Drinks Around the World."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Unintentionally Gay Whiskey Ad from 1966.

My friend Josh found this book of old whiskey ads from 1966 and it keeps yielding up gems like the one above and this one I posted back in March. What can I say? It speaks for itself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010 ADI Best Craft American Whiskey Winners Announced.

The 2010 American Distilling Institute (ADI) Best Craft American Whiskey competition was held last week at the ADI conference in Louisville, Kentucky. (Actually, most conference activities took place at Huber's Orchard, Winery & Vineyards, just across the river in Indiana. We only slept in Louisville.)

I was one of thirteen judges. Divided into two panels we tasted a total of 65 products. Thirty-five medals were awarded. You can view the results here.

I've linked to Jonathan Forester's posting of the results on his blog because the ADI itself doesn't seem to have posted them anywhere, although they sent them out via email on Tuesday. The results were announced a week ago, on the last day of the conference. In Mr. Forester's post, the statements in parenthesis are his comments, not official statements from ADI. They do not appear on the list emailed by ADI on Tuesday.

Probably because Mr. Forester made his post based on the list released last Wednesday, he did not include the statement from ADI that accompanied Tuesday's email. Since I have not seen it anywhere else on the web, I will reproduce it here.

I will post my thoughts about all this later. All I'll say now is that the account below is essentially how I remember it and I agreed with the decision that was made at that time.

"After the judging had been completed, and the judges were able to view the entries, Chuck Cowdery noted a serious problem: High West, the Best of Show winner, had not personally distilled their whiskey. Several whiskies that were submitted were actually blends of whiskies purchased from outside producers. A discussion immediately ensued as to how to resolve this problem.

"The choices were two-fold: (a) disqualify all of the those entries, or (b) allow them on a one-time basis. Alan Dikty spoke up and observed that no prohibition had been placed on such whiskies in the entry forms, that the entries had been made in good faith, and that the judges had made their decisions in good faith and to the best of their abilities.

"It was therefore unanimously decided to allow the awards to High West to stand but to make it clear in all ensuing competitions the rules would have to be changed.

"Subsequently, Jay Erisman noted that, among very high-end and respected wine merchants, a special class of producer is allowed, the négociant*. It was therefore decided that a special category for négociant whiskies would be created to accommodate these specialty whiskey producers.

"Quite simply, the winners did nothing wrong, and they qualify under the published definition of craft producers, less than 40,000 proof gallons a year. Producers and judges alike played by the rules. To re-write the rules on the spot after the fact would be unfair. Blending is also an art in and of itself and should not be discounted.

"When contacted, High West Distilleries also agreed that the rules changes would create a necessary distinction.

"ADI will find a way to separate, recognize and reward DSPs who produce their products from grain to bottle without discounting craft producers who finish products. Future judging rules will be changed to reflect varying levels of hands-on production by the DSP.

"*A négociant is the French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The micro-distillery movement is great. That there would be so many small distilleries in America making--well, anything--I never would have predicted. No one is more amazed than I am and no one is more delighted.

As whiskey enthusiasts, our prime directive is to try as many different whiskeys as we can. That's who we are. That's what we do. So naturally when a new whiskey comes along, regardless of its source, we want to try it, or at least learn a little more about it.

Which is why I want to advise my fellow whiskey enthusiasts, with regard to micro-distilleries, and in the immortal words of Larry David, curb your enthusiasm. The micro-distillers would like you to believe, and some of them actually believe this themselves, that they came right out of the box making products that are superior to those made by the majors. They didn't and they aren't.

In the case of whiskey in particular, what you have is simply a very limited range and the limitation is age. Some interesting things are being done with ages ranging from five minutes to about two years, but that's it. There is very little out there that is older than two years and it shows.

I'm not talking about the High West Rendezvous Rye, or High West BourRye, or Templeton Rye, or Angel's Envy Bourbon, or WhistlePig Rye, which were all made by majors and just bottled and sold by little guys.

In terms of the actual micro-distilled products out there, they're all just very young. Despite what some people say, nobody has figured out how to speed up the aging process.

This is not to say there is no merit in these young whiskeys. There is a lot of merit in many of them, but relative to what we're used to as whiskey drinkers, they're all too young. That's just the reality of what these guys are trying to do.

The other reality is that they are all going to be too expensive for what they are. That's also in the nature of the exercise. Whether or not they're "worth it" is something only you can decide.

So by "curb your enthusiasm," I don't mean "forget about it." What I mean is "don't expect too much." Enjoy these products for what they are and feel good about supporting someone's dream.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How I Remember Kent State.

Forty years ago Tuesday, National Guard troops on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio opened fire on student protestors, killing four and wounding nine. Several of the students who were shot were simply walking to class and not participating in the demonstration.

I was an 18-year-old freshman, president of the Miami University Student Mobilization Committee (anti-Vietnam War group) in daily contact with student activists on other Ohio campuses, including Kent. We had many arrests after our April 15th protests (I wasn't arrested) and had declared a general strike. Kent and Ohio State, and others, declared strikes initially in solidarity with us. I know it was the invasion of Cambodia that was escalating everything, but when the killings at Kent occured a few days later, I thought it was my fault. I stood at the podium with President Shriver as he closed the campus. We hugged, both in tears, and all went home.