Saturday, April 30, 2011

Buffalo Trace Announces Top Secret Single Oak Project.

I have spent the last two days learning all about The Single Oak Project from Buffalo Trace. At the end of the day, that's the name of a new Buffalo Trace Bourbon, but there is so much more to it than that.

It has been ten years in the making.

If you're curious, I'll let them explain it to you. I'll have more comments later.

If you are a true bourbon geek, you will want to wrap your head around this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What a Difference 24 Years Makes.

Twenty-four years ago, American Brands, Inc., through its subsidiary Jim Beam Brands Co. acquired National Distillers. National was the bigger company and it was billed as a merger, but it was Beam's deal all the way.

At that time, "Jim Beam Brands Co." was a misnomer, suggesting as it did that the company had brands other than Jim Beam Bourbon.

It didn't.

Their #2 brand was Kamora Coffee Liqueur.

In the deal, Beam grudgingly accepted National's bourbons, the biggest of which were Old Grand-Dad, Old Taylor and Old Crow. Beam bought National to get the DeKuyper cordials and schnapps line, in particular DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps, which at the time was bigger than Kahlua and selling more than 1,000,000 cases a year.

Whiskey was a dead category. Schnapps, now that's where the action was.

Yesterday, Fortune Brands announced that when it spins off its home/security and golf businesses to become a pure-play spirits company later this year, the new corporate name will be Beam Inc.

The name of an American straight whiskey brand will be the corporate name of the world's fourth largest spirits company. Maybe that means nothing, the even larger Pernod is named after a tiny brand, after all.

More significant than the name is this. The largest American-owned distilled spirits company (and #4 worldwide) will have an American straight whiskey as its flagship product and an American straight whiskey portfolio as its key portfolio, much as Diageo's key portfolio is its scotch whiskeys.

It's a good day for whiskey when the largest spirits company in the world and the largest American-owned spirits company are both whiskey companies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fortune Brands to Become Beam Inc.

At the Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO) annual meeting of shareholders today, chairman and chief executive officer Bruce Carbonari gave a status report on the company’s plan to become a pure-play spirits business. He also announced that, assuming completion of the separation, Fortune Brands will operate under a new name: Beam Inc. The name is derived from the current name of the spirits unit, Beam Global Spirits & Wine, and its flagship Jim Beam brand.

The plan to break-up Fortune was announced back in December. I wrote about it here.

Since then, most Wall Street commentators have assumed that the pure-play spirits company will be quickly acquired by Diageo or one of the other bigger players. When the separation is complete, Beam Inc. will be the world’s fourth-largest premium spirits business and the largest U.S.-based spirits company.

Beam's portfolio includes Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Sauza, Courvoisier, Canadian Club and Teacher’s. As previously announced, Matt Shattock will continue to lead Beam as president and chief executive officer of the company.

They still expect the separation to be completed in the second half of 2011.

Assuming completion of the spin-off, the Fortune Brands Home & Security unit will retain its name and be the only company associated with the Fortune Brands name once it is spun off and becomes an independent publicly-traded company.

The company is also exploring the potential sale or spin-off of its Acushnet Company golf business.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Important Historic Whiskey Site in Louisville Is Threatened.

In the Kentucky bourbon industry's 19th century heyday, when riverboats were still the primary way whiskey was shipped, Louisville had a singular importance. Louisville is where it is because that is the only place where the Ohio River is not navigable. Because of that accident of nature, Louisville developed as the region's primary transportation and distribution hub. Just about everything had to come off the boats there, at least temporarily, at least until they dug the channel around the Falls of the Ohio and built the locks.

This was still true in the Kentucky whiskey industry's late 19th century prime, even as the railroads were growing in importance. No matter where their distilleries were, virtually every Kentucky whiskey producer, rectifier, and dealer had a presence on Main Street in Louisville. They called it Whiskey Row. They were there because they needed easy access to the River and to each other.

Main Street was the first street at the top of the river's south bank, running parallel to it. Many businesses on the north side of Main Street built ramps so they could roll barrels of whiskey from their back doors straight down the bank to the river and waiting paddle wheel steamers.

Most of the buildings along Main Street had pre-fabricated cast iron facades, cast in Pittsburgh and floated down the Ohio on barges to be assembled on site. This was a new building technology at the time. Main Street in Louisville has the largest concentration of cast iron facades outside of New York City.

Several blocks at the western end of Louisville's Whiskey Row were preserved years ago but this is the last chance to preserve a long-neglected but equally historic block on the Row's eastern end, which also just happens to be one block from the new downtown arena.

Here is a good, short article about it from Preservation Magazine. Here is a lengthy op-ed piece in the Courier-Journal by Rachel M. Kennedy, Executive Director of Preservation Kentucky.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Women and Whiskey.

A favored (or is it 'fevered') dream of whiskey marketers, much like the growth of Asian markets, has been growth among young female drinkers. Hard core whiskey enthusiasm is still mainly male, but that may be changing.

It has been said about the success of the American women's soccer team that in countries where soccer is big -- which is everywhere except the USA -- everyone knows women don't play soccer. Because soccer is such a minor sport here, no one knows that, so the American women don't have that mental block to overcome.

I taught a bourbon class last night and the most enthusiastic students were two young women, one of whom plans to do the Bourbon Trail on her motorcycle this summer. I described to her the drive to Woodford Reserve. It has been a long time since I've gotten a woman that excited.

Young women are getting into whiskey because they don't know women don't drink whiskey. It's not the same as self-consciously defying a social norm when you don't know the social norm exists. That is whiskey's best hope for significant growth in the female demographic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thoughts on WhiskeyFest 2011.

WhiskeyFest Chicago, presented by Malt Advocate Magazine, was last Friday night at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago.

I didn’t feel quite myself Thursday and Friday as I attended WhiskeyFest and related events. I was tired and achy most of the time. Everywhere I went it was too warm inside and too cold outside. The weather has been and still is miserable here. By the time I headed home Friday evening I was exhausted and my feet and legs were killing me.

Am I getting too old, and too fat, for my debauched lifestyle?

I mention all this not just to kvetch, but because in spite of it I had a great time. Then on Saturday I saw an excellent production of “Bleacher Bums” at NEIU’s Stage Center Theatre and on Sunday spent a pleasant afternoon at Toyota Park, despite the Fire’s disappointing performance. So even though I felt under the weather, it was a fun few days.

Back to WhiskeyFest and Whiskey Week. For me these are mostly social events, a chance to chat with old friends I rarely see, and a chance to meet new ones. I wear a press badge so people will know it’s me and if they know me from here or somewhere else, they can introduce themselves and we can meet in person.

I always hope they’re not too disappointed.

I saw Scott Bush, president of Templeton Rye. We chatted amiably. He wants credit for the film he posted showing Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), the distillery where Templeton Rye is actually made. I'll grant that it's a good video glimpse inside a secretive and thus little-known distillery. The video contains some very good information and is well worth watching.

Bush confirmed that they are now aging Templeton Rye in Templeton, Iowa, some of it coming to them from LDI in barrels as young as new make. He said they still hope to move all production to Templeton but admits that is a long way off. He mentioned 25 years.

Scott Bush is a young man so he can talk about 25-year horizons.

He also said they intend to remain a single-product company and if they move distilling to Iowa they won’t be able to do it with their current facility.

I talked to Bush and several other people about the precarious state of LDI. Several small (Templeton, Redemption, Harrison, Big Bottom, High West) and not-so-small (Diageo) outfits rely on LDI for some or all of their products. Templeton and perhaps others have product in the pipeline, but all are holding their breath as they await news of LDI’s fate.

At least half a dozen times after we talked, Bush swooped in on conversations I was having with someone else to greet the other person. It happened too many times to be coincidence. What's that about?

I had a nice conversation with John Hall of Forty Creek Canadian Whiskey. We talked about how he modified his pot still by adding a short column to it just below the helmet. He confirmed that he does distill his corn whiskey out to a high, nearly-neutral proof in the Canadian style. (I’ve had some conversations with other people who questioned this.)

We also talked a lot about wood. He recently got some barrels of 100 percent Canadian-grown white oak. It sounded comparable to the Minnesota white oak terroir, which is characterized by slow growth due to the short growing season. (Short relative to the Ozarks, where most oak for whiskey barrels is produced.) He agreed that one characteristic of northern oak is a big butterscotch flavor.

It also occurs to me as I think about that conversation that northern oak seems to give up more flavor in less time. I have noticed this in whiskey aged in smaller barrels. Hall doesn’t believe size makes a difference and he strictly uses standard 53 gallon barrels but he has observed this too.

Hall also said he had his Canadian-grown wood air-seasoned for 2 ½ years. That’s more than twice what most people do.

A tip for craft distillers: if you want your whiskey to mature quickly, invest in barrels that have had longer open-air seasoning, as the partial decomposition that occurs during natural seasoning makes flavors more available.

Hall drew an analogy to strawberries. He said Nova Scotia strawberries are very small but flavorful, whereas strawberries grown in California or Mexico are often large but mealy and flavorless. He believes most people don't realize how much of a whiskey's flavor comes from the wood.

Speaking of Canadians, I tried some Crown Royal Cask No. 16. I wanted to be more impressed with it than I was. Brown-Forman was pouring their new Canadian, Collingwood. I like the theme: “whiskey should be enjoyed, not endured.” Canadian whiskey can be bland but it’s rarely offensive.

Jim Beam’s Fred Noe, talking about the new Jim Beam Devil’s Cut bourbon, was asked if the process they’re using to extract more ‘soakage whiskey’ from their barrels had made those barrels less desirable to the scotch distillers who usually buy them. “We don’t care,” answered Noe, although he said it more colorfully, which drew a big laugh.

Also on barrels, Jim Rutledge was asked which Scottish distillery gets Four Roses barrels when he’s through with them. Turns out they don’t go to Scotland, they all go to Diageo’s distillery in Gimli, Manitoba, where Crown Royal and other Diageo Canadians are made. That was part of the deal Diageo made when they sold the distillery to Kirin more than a decade ago.

I’m sure there was more. If I recall anything else I’ll make a subsequent post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Lifetime of Success -- Kentucky Distillers Honor Bill Samuels Jr. with Prestigious Title.

Note: I usually don't just reprint press releases but this one is good and pretty much says it all. -CKC

LORETTO, Ky. – The world-renowned members of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) today installed Bill Samuels, Jr., as a “Lifetime Honorary Member” of its prestigious Board of Directors, a title bestowed to only four other people in the group’s storied 131-year history.

Mr. Samuels, who is retiring Friday as the iconic President and CEO of Maker’s Mark Distillery, is the longest-serving member of the KDA Board since its founding in 1880. He joined in 1968 as the distillery’s alternate Director under his father, T. William Samuels, Sr.

The KDA ceremony took place at the picturesque Maker’s Mark Distillery in Marion County, with all of the distillery’s employees, distinguished executives and legendary Master Distillers of Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry in attendance.

"The only person more surprised than I am about receiving this great honor would probably have been my father, who I think always suspected that I might not be cut out for this business," Mr. Samuels said.

"I’ve enjoyed serving the Kentucky Distillers’ Association all these years while sharing Bourbon, an essential part of Kentucky’s culture, with the world. This is a signature industry for the Commonwealth and I’m proud of the work the KDA has done to keep the industry healthy."

In a spirited twist of fate, the last person to be prescribed a "Lifetime Honorary Member" was Mr. Samuels’ father in 1982 upon his retirement. The elder Samuels founded Maker’s Mark in 1953 and served on the KDA Board for 28 years. He died in 1992.

Other honorary members are:
  • Dr. Frank Kraus was the first KDA Board member from Barton Distilling Company when it joined in 1963. Later an executive with Jim Beam Distillery, Dr. Kraus was named an honorary member in 1979. He died in 2004.
  • Charles King McClure of Stitzel-Weller Distillery, who led the successful repeal of Kentucky’s production tax on spirits in 1966 as KDA Chairman. He served on the Board more than 25 years and was named a “Lifetime” member in 1968. He died in 1977.
  • James Bigstaff O’Rear of Schenley Distilleries, who served on the KDA Board for 30 years, was hailed for his "untiring efforts" to benefit the industry upon his honorary recognition in 1965. He died in 1975.
KDA Chairman John Rhea called Mr. Samuels "the epitome of a Bourbon entrepreneur."

"His tenacity for quality, genius for marketing and undeniable business savvy is why Maker’s Mark continues to be a leader in growth for Bourbon," said Rhea, who is Chief Operating Officer at Four Roses Distillery.

"Plus, his skill as a Bourbon Ambassador has done more to move Bourbon back to its rightful place as 'America’s Spirit' than the rest of us could do in two lifetimes. And if that’s not enough, his philanthropic leadership has helped countless community and charitable causes.

"Bill Samuels walks the walk of Bourbon, talks the talk of Bourbon and does so to benefit the entire industry. We congratulate him today, thank him for a lifetime of success and look forward to many more years of his friendship and leadership for Kentucky."

The KDA, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1880 to protect the Bourbon industry from needless and obstructive laws and regulations. Today, the KDA is the state’s leading voice on spirits issues and operates the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour.

KDA members, which produce nearly 90 percent of the world’s Bourbon, include Beam Global Spirits & Wine (Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), Brown-Forman Corp., Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., and Wild Turkey.

KDA President Eric Gregory called Mr. Samuels a "monumental leader, not only for Bourbon but for the Bluegrass as well."

"Many people don’t realize what Bill Samuels means to Kentucky. He is a champion for education, health care and business. He is a global Ambassador whose integrity and sense of humor and honor has won the world over. In a sense, Bill is our best export.

"We are proud today that he joins his father as a Lifetime member of our cherished industry, and we welcome his continued visionary service to the KDA and to our great Commonwealth."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Drinking Bourbon But Thinking Islay.

Many drinkers, upon trying their first Islay malt, wonder what the appeal is. Even most Islay lovers would agree that whiskeys from that island assault the senses like no others, with flavors and aromas not ordinarily considered appealing. The pleasure in those drams is when they combine their discordant pieces into a harmonious whole. A pact is forged between drink and drinker to struggle past the repellant first impression to find the bliss beyond.

Few Scottish whiskeys attempt this high wire act, even fewer do from other lands. Some Americans do it with advanced age. Something like the 18-year-old Sazerac Rye poses a similar challenge. So have a few limited-edition releases from other distilleries, including several of the annual limited edition single barrels from Four Roses, like the new one for 2011.

For those of you who know the code, it's a 12-year-old OBSQ. (For those who don't, go to the web site for an explanation. Look for the tab that says '10 recipes.')

Like an Islay malt, this bourbon throws down the gauntlet right away. It has a strong bitter herb note that a grappa drinker might recognize. The balance comes from sweetness and an enveloping, scone-like body. When you've acclimated it presents more as caraway seed and horehound candy. There is nothing subtle about any of it.

This bourbon will not be for everyone which is just as well since these Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition releases always sell out fast anyway. You'll either love it or hate it. I totally get it, I think it's a great whiskey, but I don't love it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Who Was John E. Fitzgerald?

Old Fitzgerald Bourbon is an old brand with genuine 19th century roots. Today it is made by Heaven Hill. The whiskey itself is unusual because it is one of a handful of bourbons that use wheat instead of rye as the flavor grain. The best known 'wheater' is Maker's Mark. W. L. Weller is another.

I like wheaters and Old Fitz is good bourbon. This isn't about that. This is about the name and the man behind it.

The Old Fitzgerald brand originated with Charles Herbst, an international wine and spirits dealer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Among his various holdings was a Kentucky bourbon distillery which to locals was known by the name Old Judge, on Benson Creek near Frankfort, Kentucky. Members of the Bixler family were distillers there.

That is where Herbst made all of his bourbons and ryes, including Old Fitzgerald. It closed with Prohibition and never re-opened.

Herbst, in his marketing of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, claimed the distillery was built by John E. Fitzgerald who, after selling it to Herbst in about 1900, moved to Hammond, Indiana (a suburb of Chicago) to run a distillery there. Under Herbst, Old Fitzgerald became a successful brand. During Prohibition, Herbst sold it to Julian P. 'Pappy' Van Winkle. After repeal, Old Fitzgerald became the flagship brand of Van Winkle's Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

Back when the Old Fitzgerald brand was created, just like today, producers thought nothing of creating completely fictitious origin stories for their products. Evidence that only emerged about ten years ago reveals the true story of John Fitzgerald. I shan't go into every twist and turn here. Suffice it to say that based on the evidence I've seen, this is the most likely story.

John E. Fitzgerald was neither a distiller nor a distillery owner. He was a Treasury agent with a powerful thirst who also happened to be a good judge of whiskey. Not only was he known to help himself to a sample now and then, he supposedly only poached from honey barrels. As a result, Herbst and his associates got into the habit of calling any particularly good barrel of whiskey 'a Fitzgerald.' Naming a brand in his honor was for them a wonderful inside joke, which Herbst revealed many years later.

Some people, in telling this 'new' story, have taken to referring to Fitzgerald as a ‘security guard.’  Perhaps they are doing this to avoid offending the Feds. The story is that Fitzgerald had the ‘keys to the warehouse,’ which they interpret as 'security guard.'

The problem with that interpretation is that this was a bonded warehouse and in that era the only person who had ‘keys to the warehouse’ was the assigned Treasury agent. Even the distillery owner didn’t have keys. This was true from passage of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 until the system was changed in the early 1980s. Every distillery had a 'government man' on the premises who controlled all access to the warehouses. If Fitzgerald had keys to the warehouse, he had to be a Treasury agent. That's all there is to it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What's In A Name: White Whiskey, Part II.

My post yesterday was about the challenge of producing 'white whiskey' products that appeal to consumers, and in particular of naming and marketing them in ways that will connect with consumers and comply with the law.

There is an interesting conversation about this topic going on at ADI Forums here. ADI is the American Distilling Institute, the trade association for micro-distilleries.

As I posted over there, what seems to be happening with label approvals is that TTB is allowing producers to use grain names prominently on their labels as long as they are not used right before the word 'whiskey' in the name. In other words, a product called 'Chuck's Finest Whiskey; Radical Rye' or 'Rye Riot Whiskey' would be acceptable even if distilled above 160 proof and aged very briefly in used barrels. It is classified on the COLA as just 'whiskey' or 'other whiskey,' but not as 'rye whiskey,' and so would not trigger the <160 proof and new charred barrel requirement. Everybody wins.

I doubt TTB would regard the word 'bourbon' so generously but they're being sensible in terms of letting people prominently feature their source grain or grains. The difference is probably negligible to the consumer. If the words 'rye' and 'whiskey' are both in the name, regardless of the order, the consumer will get 'rye whiskey' from that, not as the TTB understands that term, but as the consumer understands it, so, again, everybody wins.

There seems to be no getting around the touch-and-go aging requirement but resting your still output overnight in used barrels hardly seems prohibitive. Use an old barrel instead of a tank to feed your bottling line and the word 'whiskey' is yours.

In the USA anyway.

The message to consumers, then, is that all whiskeys are aged in wood but not all of them pick up color from the wood, typically because they are aged very briefly. Most consumers will be satisfied with that explanation. I don't think micro-distillers do themselves any favor by portraying touch-and-go aging as a trick on the government. Just call it a very light aging that doesn't impart any color.

'Touch-and-go aging' is my term for aging a spirit very briefly in used cooperage primarily to satisfy the law's requirement of 'storage in oak containers,' since the law is silent about duration. This is a common and accepted practice, I'm just naming it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's In A Name: White Whiskey.

One of the ongoing dramas in the epic saga of America's fledgling micro-distillery industry is between producers and the calendar. Most have just not figured out how to make fully-aged whiskey products.

I recognize that this whole definitional terrain is a minefield and even a term such as 'fully-aged' can be considered unfairly value-loaded. Maybe 'traditional' is more acceptable. Traditional American straight whiskeys, such as bourbon and rye, are typically aged for between 4 and 8 years. Scottish-stye whiskeys typically spend 8 to 12 years in wood.

You don't have to think very hard to see how ridiculously expensive that is, especially at the beginning. You're spending money every day to make the whiskey -- grain, water, yeast, barrels, energy, salaries -- and you can't sell a drop for four or five years, minimum.

Like actors who hope to direct, most micro-distillers say they want to make whiskey, but most haven't figured out how to manage the whole aging problem. And while age is objective the real issue isn't age but maturity, which is subjective. When is a given whiskey 'ready'?

Because of the aging conundrum, it is rare to find a micro-distillery whiskey that is at least 2 years old, and many are sold with no aging at all as 'white whiskey.'

This is problematic, however, because U.S. law says something called 'whiskey' has to be wood-aged. On the other hand, it doesn't say for how long. In most places outside the United States, the law does say for how long, typically a minimum of three years. You can imagine the possibilities.

All this keeps alive the subject of what to call such products, considering all issues of production, consumer awareness, and regulatory compliance.

Although 'whiskey' is a word people recognize, some producers use alternatives such as 'moonshine,' 'white dog,' and 'new make.' Others propose 'American whiskey' as a catch-all for anything that's not bourbon, rye, corn, Tennessee, etc.

Here are a few of my thoughts.

The traditional term in the United States for unaged whiskey was 'common whiskey,' but that was long before the first Standards of Identity came into being with passage of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. It was called 'common' because most whiskey then wasn't aged, which is not the case today.

Of all the terms mentioned above, 'whiskey' is the only one that is regulated. It's probably the most desirable word to use, with or without a modifier, for any flavorful grain spirit. Since whiskey must have contact with oak by law, we might have to teach people that very young wood-aged whiskey can be clear. That doesn't seem like a huge obstacle. That makes 'white whiskey' a good term. The average person's intuitive sense of what it means is largely correct, which is a great recommendation for it, and rare.

'Moonshine' is tough to resist because it resonates with the consumer, but using it on a legal product undermines the true meaning of the word, leading to confusion. Many people mistakenly believe that moonshine is a type of distilled spirit when, in fact, it is any distilled spirit produced illegally. Using the term 'moonshine' on an unaged whiskey product is doubly wrong since virtually all true moonshine is sugarjack.

I don't like 'American whiskey' as a catch-all category, although 'other American whiskey' is fine. The natural meaning of 'American whiskey' is a whiskey made in America, an umbrella term that includes bourbon, rye, corn, blended, Tennessee, i.e., everything not everything except the major categories. It has never been all about bourbon in the USA and even Tennessee whiskey has to be respected as a de facto type even if it's not de jure.

'White Dog' is nice because it is colloquial and sounds vaguely 'bad' (like 'moonshine') but it's also traditional and authentic. I've been hanging around American distilleries for the past 30 years and folks in the industry probably use the term 'white dog' most often. It seems to naturally roll off the tongues of distillers in Kentucky and Tennessee.

'New make' is similar but doesn't have any tang to it. It's bloodless, but equally authentic. 'New make' is for use in company that might not get 'white dog,' such as non-native English speakers. Both terms also get around the need to have oak involved.

You can't realistically make any of these terms proprietary so there's still some value in trying to think of a term that communicates what your product is as effectively as 'white whiskey' does, but that you can own.

Back at the beginning of my career I heard the term 'high wines' a lot but almost never now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition Is World's Second Largest

This past weekend's 6th Annual Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition was the largest to date. At 285 entries, Great Lakes is now the second largest hard cider competition in the world. Thanks to Charles McGonegal at AEppelTreow (Apple True) Winery & Distillery in Burlington, Wisconsin, for keeping me informed about this.

I'm not a big cider and perry guy but I'm enamored by this because I am a Great Lakes region guy and remember when there were many fruit orchards around my home town of Mansfield, Ohio, during my childhood in the 50s and 60s. I learned about hard cider and even ice distillation at a young age. Even though we were city folk it was part of the local culture.

Unlike most alcohol beverage competitions, which are run by large for-profit entities such as publishers, and dominated by mega-national corporations, this is a tiny little thing run by an association of very small, family run, mostly farm-based operations.

These days it has become fashionable for the big guys to pose as little guys. These are the real little guys.

The fermented beverage categories, of which there are many, accept both professional (i.e., commercial) and amateur entries. Because the law doesn't permit distilling except by licensed distillers, those categories are limited to licensed commercial producers.

Here, from Mr. McGonegal, are the results for the Commercial Spirits Divisions. Category 2006-3a Distilled - Eau de vie (5 Total Entries)

Gold Eau de Vie San Jaun Island Distilling Apple Eau de vie
Gold Eau de Vie Blackstar Farms Spirit of Pear
Gold Eau de Vie Uncle John's Cider Mill Vodka
Silver Eau de Vie Koval Distillery Pear Brandy
Silver Eau de Vie Tom's Foolery Tom's Foolery Applejack Eau-de-vie-Jack

Category 2006-3b Distilled - Brandy (Oak Aged) (5 Total Entries)

Gold Brandy (Oak Aged) AeppelTreow Winery & Distillery Wisconsin Apple Brandy
Gold Brandy (Oak Aged) Blackstar Farms Apple 10 Year Old Brandy
Bronze Brandy (Oak Aged) Uncle John's Cider Mill Apple Brandy
Bronze Brandy (Oak Aged) Yahara Bay Distillery Esprit de Pome
Bronze Brandy (Oak Aged) Tom's Foolery Tom's Foolery Applejack

Best of Show for the Ice Cider / Fortified / Spirits division went to Black Star Farm's Spirit of Pear

Okay. So everybody who entered won something. Congratulations to all the winners anyway.

The 'What Happened To Old Crow" Story.

One of the most unusual stories I heard when I was working on the documentary "Made and Bottled in Kentucky (1991-92) was told by a man who identified himself as the last master distiller at Old Crow and who was by then a Beam employee working at Forks of Elkorn (formerly Old Grand-Dad and now Beam's Frankfort maturation and bottling facility), which is where Beam stuck all of the National production people it retained.

They had permission to show me around Old Taylor and Old Crow, then in ruins but still owned by Jim Beam as a result of the 1987 acquisition of National Distillers. It was just me and a couple of these old National guys. I wasn't shooting, just researching. There was no one with us from Beam PR.

This gentleman told me that in the 1960s, National enlarged the Old Crow plant and accidentally altered the percentage of setback they were using to condition their mash. He said this completely screwed up the flavor of the whiskey. Everyone, including he and the distillery tasting panel, told management it tasted wrong, but at that point they were making it as fast as they could and selling all they could make, so nothing was ever done to fix it.

A few years later, when the bottom fell out of the bourbon business, it was worse for Crow than any other major brand; double-digit share and sales losses every year. He said they finally figured out what the problem was and fixed it a couple of years before Beam bought the place, so for the last few years of production the whiskey from that plant was good.

I've never found another source who could either confirm or dispute that story.