Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fall Is A Great Time To Visit Bourbon Country.

One problem with visiting distilleries during the traditional summer vacation month of August is that most of them are quiet. Even though modern technology makes it possible to distill year round, and some do, hot weather is unpleasant for the workers so many distilleries shut down for at least a few weeks during the hottest part of the year.

That, of course, means they all start to crank back up in the fall. Buffalo Trace even makes a festival of it. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown is always the third week in September, 9/12-18 this year. Although it’s technically all week, most stuff happens on the weekend.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers Association, will get you to most of the distilleries that give tours. Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792, both owned by Sazerac, give tours but aren’t on the trail. There are also several distilleries that don’t give tours but you can see them from the road.

As important as seeing the distilleries is seeing at least one cooperage (where they make the barrels). Brown-Forman Cooperage, in Louisville, where they build barrels for Jack Daniel’s and other Brown-Forman products, welcomes visitors through Mint Julep Tours. Kentucky Cooperage, in Lebanon, has two public tours a day, no reservations needed. You also get to visit Lebanon, which is charming. I recommend the Cedarwood Restaurant, located just west of the cooperage. It’s a real-deal Kentucky country restaurant, not some city folk’s idea of one.

I also like that Kentucky and Tennessee usually get two or three more weeks of nice weather in the spring and fall than Chicago does. When that first cold hawk (aka Mr. Hawkins) blows in from Lake Michigan, find I-65 and head south.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Elijah Craig Did Not Invent Bourbon.

Elijah Craig is a brand of bourbon made by Heaven Hill Distilleries. It comes as a 12-year-old or an 18-year-old, both excellent.

Elijah Craig was also a real person, c. 1738-1808, a Kentucky pioneer, community leader, entrepreneur, and Baptist minister.

But he did not invent bourbon whiskey.

The durable but unsubstantiated claim that Elijah Craig ‘invented’ bourbon can be traced to Richard Collins and his 1874 History of Kentucky. Collins does not identify Craig by name, but writes that "the first Bourbon Whiskey was made in 1789, at Georgetown, at the fulling mill at the Royal spring." This claim is included, without elaboration or substantiation, on a densely-packed page of "Kentucky Firsts." Since Craig operated "the fulling mill at the Royal spring" in that year, the "invention" is attributed to him.

There are several major problems with the claim. First, what made Craig's whiskey different from other whiskey made in the region? Second, the Georgetown site was never in Bourbon County, so if the place name and the whiskey have to go together, Craig cannot be the originator. In fact, the name 'Bourbon whiskey' was applied to all whiskey from that region beginning early in the 19th century but the style of whiskey we now call bourbon didn't really evolve until many years later, in about the middle of the century, long after Craig’s death.

The Craig claim has been convenient. His ministerial vocation was played up by wet forces in the run-up to Prohibition. When something has an inventor the story of its origin is much easier to tell, but actual history is seldom so neat. Whatever else it may be, historically the Craig claim is unsupported.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Japan Loves Its Highballs.

I’m mystified by the current highball craze in Japan. Rather, since I neither speak nor read Japanese, I should say I am mystified by what I’ve read in English about the current highball craze in Japan.

Back in June, Camper English introduced America to Mizuwari, the Japanese highball ritual. First you put ice in a glass and stir to glaze the glass. Then discard any water and add about 1 ½ ounces of whiskey. Stir that 13 ½ times clockwise, fill with soda water and stir another 3 ½ times, also clockwise.

They also sell canned highballs in Japan, so obviously not everyone takes them so seriously.

But this idea that the highball is whiskey and soda water over ice, period, is still a little too particular for me, here in the highball’s country of origin.

In American drinking culture, ‘highball’ is (or was, as this is somewhat archaic usage) just another synonym for ‘drinky-poo.’

It developed at a time when most people drank whiskey of some sort and most drank it diluted in some way, usually just with water. In the old days, most gentle folk liked to take their time getting drunk. The tall glass that is typically used for this simple mixture is called a highball so the drink, such as it is, came to be called a highball too. You could say "whiskey and water," but "a highball, please" would usually get you the same thing.

It’s similar to the Southern habit of referring to any soft drink as ‘Coke.’ If ‘highball’ means anything more than just ‘a drink,’ it means a drink in which whiskey is cut with water, a definition that ultimately was broadened to include ice, sparking water, club soda, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, and a twist of lemon peel as garnish.

The highball is the un-fussiest of drinks, a distilled spirits version of beer. That’s why it seems wrong to ritualize it. But I’m broad minded about drinking. Do what pleases you.

English also observes that the typical Japanese highball is made with blended whiskey, either Japanese or scotch. The highball as I have described may be made with any whiskey you like, from anyplace. The one I'm drinking right now is Very Old Barton Bourbon, BIB, with lemon-lime soda, and ice, stirred about five times, but really fast, and not so much clockwise as back and forth. I apologize in advance.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coming Soon: The Bulleit Experience At Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

Several years ago, at WhiskeyFest here in Chicago, I was chatting with a Diageo executive who opined that they would eventually have to do something about creating a "home place for Bulleit." What's a "home place"? Think of it as a distillery substitute. You can't visit the Bulleit Distillery because there isn't one.

What does Bulleit have to do with Stitzel-Weller? Nothing, except Diageo owns both of them. Stitzel-Weller is the old Van Winkle family distillery. Diageo has owned it for more than 20 years. The distillery itself has been dark since 1992, but they use the warehouses to age bourbon distilled for them by others, and may be using other parts of the facility too.

Although Diageo has never confirmed this, I'm pretty sure Bulleit is aged at Stitzel-Weller.

The Stitzel-Weller Distillery is located just south of Louisville in the suburb of Shively, where there were once dozens of distilleries. It was built just after Prohibition ended and operated for 60 years. Until Maker's Mark it was the only distillery making wheated bourbon. Its brands were Old Fitzgerald, W. L. Weller, Old Rip Van Winkle, Cabin Still, and Rebel Yell, none of which Diageo still owns.

According to the announcement, Tom Bulleit and his team are very excited about this  opportunity to share more about Bulleit while giving folks a close look at one of the most legendary distilleries of its time. Stitzel-Weller will also serve as Tom’s place of business when he is in Kentucky.

I haven't been inside the fence since 1996, so I'm excited too.

Pappy Van Winkle built Stitzel-Weller to be a showplace as well as a working distillery. It is great that this important landmark will be preserved and people will be able to experience it.

They haven't announced when it will be open to the public. I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Micro-Distillers And The "Just Till We Get Going" Trap.

One of the recurring themes among new micro-distillers is: "We're going to make vodka just to get going, but what we really want to make is whiskey," or its variation, "We're going to buy and bottle bulk whiskey just to get going, until we can make and age our own."

So simple, so reasonable and, therefore, so alluring. But is it realistic?

After observing this pattern for the past half-dozen years or so, I have concluded that when new micro-distillers say that is their plan, they are in most cases either lying or naive.

Why is the "Just Till We Get Going" strategy a trap? Two reasons.

(1) People seem to think it's easy to build up a profitable business making and selling vodka, or buying and bottling bulk whiskey, as if you can work on that for a few minutes, just until the cash starts to roll in, and then go do what you really want to do. Not only will the business practically run itself, it will bring in enough revenue to fund the whiskey program.

Well, it's not easy. What's more, you can work very hard for a long time, become successful, and discover you're in a completely different business than the one you wanted to be in, no closer to realizing your dream than you were when you started.

(2) If you want to make whiskey but intend to start with a bulk product, you'll never be able to transition to whiskey you made yourself because it will never be the same or even similar enough to make such a transition. If you try to do both you risk diluting your brand and confusing your customers.

Great Lakes is a micro-distillery but they recently released a product that combines bourbon made by a major Kentucky distillery with malt whiskey made at Great Lakes. St. George has announced a similar project. This can work for them because they are established, have distribution channels, and have loyal customers. They have a receptive audience for anything they choose to produce, whether it's made by them or not. They can be perfectly honest about what they're doing and the vast majority of consumers, who don't pay very close attention, will still assume they made it because they have a reputation as micro-distillers.

But what about examples of startups that began that way? Templeton Rye has been around for six years and when they finally admitted the product isn't theirs, they said they were going to use bulk whiskey just until their own whiskey was old enough to bottle. In reality, they have made no effort to replace their LDI-made whiskey, though they have stopped pretending that they ever will. They have even admitted that, if they wanted to make it themselves, they would need a completely different distillery than the one they have in Iowa now.

High West's highly acclaimed Rendezvous Rye is a similar story. High West is now selling products it made, but they will never replace the current Rendezvous Rye, a bulk whiskey product, with whiskey made by them in Utah.

Last month I told you that Michter's plans to build a micro-distillery in Louisville. Even if, after aging, they mix their house-made whiskey with their sourced whiskey, the ratio will  be 10 to 1 or more, a drop in the bucket. The Louisville project is a way to give a company that doesn't have a distillery a symbolic one.

Another example is the Pogue family. Old Pogue has been on the market for seven years and just this year the Pogues are beginning the process of obtaining necessary permissions to start a very small (25-50 gallons a week) distillery in Maysville, Kentucky. Old Pogue has, by all evidence, been a successful product and, as such, sells a lot more than you can produce at a rate of 25 to 50 gallons a week. In fairness, they don't claim they are starting the distillery to produce the current Old Pogue Bourbon. They just want to bring whiskey making back to Maysville, where the family's historic distillery was located.

Aspiring micro-distillers, take note. The Pogues have come nearest to realizing some version of the "Just Till We Get Going" dream and it will, if all goes according to plan, have been a decade-long project the day their first drop comes off the still.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Rufus M. Rose House Is For Sale.


The Rufus M. Rose House is for sale.

Once valued at more than a million dollars, it was recently foreclosed and the bank has it listed for $315,000. They’ll probably take less.

Its significance, for our purposes, is that Rufus Mathewson Rose founded the original Four Roses Distillery. That claim is not universally accepted, however, as the present owners of Four Roses Bourbon only acknowledge its history back to Paul Jones, who brought the name from Atlanta to Louisville in 1884.

The Jones family built Four Roses Bourbon into a major national brand. For reasons unknown, Jones and his successors never acknowledged the Rose family, although they did claim that the Four Roses name was in use in Georgia as early as the 1860s.

As the Rose family’s version is told, the original "Four Roses" were Rufus Rose (1836-1910), his brother and business partner, and their respective sons who were also in the business. Four guys named Rose, hence "Four Roses."

Not very sexy.

The R. M. Rose & Co. Distillery was located twelve miles northwest of downtown, on Stillhouse Road in Vinings, Georgia. The Roses sold their whiskey through a chain of Atlanta-area stores that also sold tobacco.

Since whiskey brands, as such, were only just coming into existence in the last few decades of the 19th century, it’s possible Jones acquired some kind of rights from the Roses but it was Jones, not they, who first registered Four Roses as a national trademark in 1888.

The “official” (per the City of Atlanta) history of the house says the Roses were still making Four Roses Whiskey as late as 1907, when Georgia went dry and they moved to Tennessee, after which their trail grows cold. That claim, obviously, is inconsistent with the Paul Jones Company timeline.

The house is prominently located on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta and is one of the few single family homes left in that neighborhood. It has five bedrooms, three baths, and 5,700 sq. ft. It is right next door to a Gladys Knight Chicken and Waffles location. If you want to find the listing, search the street address: 537 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30308.

According to the Atlanta Preservation Center, the 1901 house was designed by Atlanta architect Emil Charles Seitz Sr., in the Queen Anne style. For more than 50 years (1945-1998), it was the home of the Atlanta Museum, a privately-owned museum established by James H. Elliott, Sr. to display his eclectic collection, which included furniture belonging to Margaret Mitchell and a Japanese Zero war plane. It was the headquarters of the Atlanta Preservation Center from 1999 through 2001. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated as an Atlanta Landmark Building.

The Atlanta Urban Design Commission calls it “the sole survivor in the central business district of [the] era of grand residential development and is an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. It conveys a sense of residential Peachtree at a time when streetcars, not automobiles, determined the patterns of residential development and its importance as such cannot be overstated.”

The previous owner’s restoration plans fell through and Central Atlanta Progress, a private nonprofit community development organization, estimates it will take about $500,000 to whip it into shape as an office building or restaurant.

A better idea would be for Four Roses to buy it, restore it to its original glory, and operate it as a tourist attraction, which would also tastefully promote Four Roses Bourbon.

If you drink Four Roses Bourbon and think this is a good idea you might want to suggest it to them. They’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Buffalo Trace Distillery Announces Second Release In Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. Collection.

Buffalo Trace Distillery has announced the second release in the Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. collection. It is a single barrel bourbon aged in a warehouse built by Taylor in 1881 (Warehouse C).

The bourbon was aged for 11 years, 7 months, and Bottled-in-Bond at 100 proof. The recipe is Buffalo Trace rye-recipe bourbon mash #1.

It joins the E. H. Taylor Jr. Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bourbon Buffalo Trace released earlier this year. Availability will be similarly limited. The packaging is also similar, and reminiscent of Taylor’s bottles from nearly one hundred years ago.

E. H. Taylor is widely considered one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, fighting for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. During his lifetime, Taylor implemented several innovative methods still used today by Buffalo Trace, such as climate controlled aging warehouses.

Suggested retail is $59.99 per 750ml bottle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beam Unveils New Logo And Names New Bourbons Boss.

Yesterday was a big news day at Beam Global. They unveiled a new corporate logo (above) and named Christopher G. Bauder as the Bourbon Category Business Team (CBT) General Manager.

Bourbon whiskey is Beam’s largest and best-performing category. Beam is the world’s largest producer of bourbon. The company’s flagship brand, Jim Beam, sells six-million cases a year. Maker’s Mark sells more than one million.

In the past two years, Beam has also innovated within the Bourbon category by introducing new products such as Red Stag by Jim Beam, Maker’s 46, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and, most recently, Jim Beam Devil’s Cut.

“With his extensive global brand building and sales experience, Chris Bauder is positioned to take our Bourbon portfolio to the next level,” said Bill Newlands, Beam president, North America. “Bourbon is our number one, single largest category at Beam, and I’m confident that with Chris’ leadership we’ll continue to revolutionize within our portfolio and drive other industry trends.”

Before joining Beam, Bauder served as S.C. Johnson’s Vice President Marketing, International Markets. He was 17 years at Johnson. Bauder has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and political science from Duke University and a Master of Business Administration from Marquette University.

While I’m disappointed that such an important position is going to someone with no bourbon experience, that’s pretty typical of the way Beam hires and promotes. Beam is now the world’s fourth-largest premium spirits company, with 10 of the world’s top-100 premium spirits brands in its portfolio. The fact that it is primarily an American whiskey company is good for American whiskey enthusiasts.

The new logo reflects this. It also reflects the fact that people have always called the company “Beam” regardless of its actual name. The new name and logo will take effect as soon as the separation from Fortune Brands is complete, sometime in the new few months.

The new corporate logo is based on Jim Beam’s actual signature. This has more historic significance than the company may even know. Late in the 19th century, when brands were first becoming important in the American whiskey business, legal protection for trademarks was very weak. Legal protection against forgery was much stronger. Starting with Hiram Walker, many producers reproduced their personal signatures prominently on their labels, and encouraged their customers to look for the signature to ensure authenticity.

Producers who followed Walker’s lead included George Garvin Brown, E. H. Taylor and James E. Pepper. Unscrupulous producers could copy a name or label with impunity, but not a signature.

The Beam family has no significant ownership stake in the company and there are no Beam family members in senior management. “Our new corporate identity is simple, authentic, memorable and is the perfect reflection of our commitment to the Beam family’s pioneering vision established more than 216 years ago,” said Matt Shattock, Beam president and CEO.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Upcoming Whiskey Classes Taught By Me.

I teach whiskey classes here in Chicago through I Wish Lessons. Tonight I'm teaching Introduction to Single Malt Scotch at Pitchfork (2922 W. Irving Park Rd.) at 7:00 PM. If they're not sold out, I Wish will sell tickets pretty much right up to the last minute so contact them if you're interested.

The classes are held in various north side bars. We always taste four products. You can order food and other beverages, and stay after class for 'extra credit.' It's a fun night out with friends, with a little learning on the side.

I Wish also has many other classes. Their most popular one is sushi rolling.

I Wish prefers the term 'coach' to 'teacher' or 'instructor.' I usually 'coach' everybody as a group for about an hour, then hang around for individual one-on-one 'coaching.' Class size is typically 10 to 25 people. It's all very relaxed and informal and the students usually determine the course of events through their questions.

Here is what I have coming up. Go to the I Wish website to sign up or see what other classes they offer.

Tue, Aug 16 -- Single Malt Scotch (Pitchfork)
Wed, Aug 24 -- Whiskey 101
Mon, Sep 19 – Bourbon
Thu, Sep 22 – Scotch
Thu, Sep 29 – Whiskey 101

The other locations haven't been set yet but we're usually at Pitchfork (2922 W. Irving Park Rd., just west of California) or Rocks Lincoln Park (1301 West Schubert Avenue, at Lakewood).

Everything is subject to change.

I Wish also does private classes, so if you have a group that would like to have a whiskey or other distilled spirits tasting with me as your coach, you can arrange that through I Wish too, or contact me directly. (Email is on my profile.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Weed Grows At Diageo.

I have two articles in the current issue (number 97) of Whisky Magazine. One of them is about how Diageo has mis-managed its American whiskey portfolio.

One thread that didn’t quite make the final edit was about Jeremiah Weed.

Diageo is a big brands company. Its portfolio includes Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, José Cuervo, Tanqueray, and Crown Royal. Its whiskey credibility comes from owning Talisker, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Lagavulin, and Oban. Its American whiskeys are Bulleit, I. W. Harper, and George Dickel.

Then there is Jeremiah Weed, one of Diageo’s tiniest brands.

Jeremiah Weed stands for the proposition that people buy brands, not categories. As small as it is, Jeremiah Weed has products in at least five different categories: blended bourbon whiskey, flavored blended bourbon whiskey, flavored vodka, liqueurs, and flavored malt beverages.

The official categories are played down, of course. Instead, Diageo divides the six spirits products between “Sweet Tea” and “Bourbon,” and has “Malt Beverages” as a third group. The spirits products are 35% to 50% abv and sold in 750 ml bottles. The malt products are 5.8% abv and sold in 12 ounce and 23.5 ounce cans.

There are nine Weed products in five categories, but everything is sold using the image of the original product, a 50% abv bourbon-based liqueur created in the late 1960s to compete with Southern Comfort. Along the way, it developed cult status among American Air Force jet fighter pilots, a prestigious if tiny market niche. Diageo seems to have rediscovered Weed about three years ago. Every product except the liqueur is new.

“People like the name,” says Yvonne Briese, Vice President Marketing, Whisky, Diageo NA. She describes the image as, “a mixture of bad-ass and Southern gentleman.”

Which sounds like another way of saying, “the Jack Daniel’s drinker.”

In recent marketing efforts, Diageo had created a fictional Jeremiah Weed, who talks from time to time, and a fictional association with Weed, Kentucky. A real place, though just barely, it has no connection with the product or the company.

Except for a major TV campaign for the flavored malt beverages (Spiked Cola, Lightning Lemonade and Roadhouse Tea), most of the marketing for Jeremiah Weed has been in social media and other internet channels. To some extent, Diageo seems to be just running ideas up the flagpole, as the old ad industry saying used to go, to see if anybody salutes them. The company professes to be happy with the results.

Since this blog is usually about American whiskey, I’ll mention that Jeremiah Weed Blended Bourbon and Jeremiah Weed Cherry Mash Flavored Blended Bourbon are half straight bourbon, half vodka; plus cherry flavoring in the Cherry Mash version. The original Jeremiah Weed liqueur and the Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka with Bourbon Whiskey each contain an unknown amount of bourbon, though certainly much less than 50%.

I’ve tried the blended bourbon. It’s not ghastly.

Diageo has one operating whiskey distillery in the United States, George Dickel in Tennessee, which only makes George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey. Diageo’s bourbons and bourbon-containing products use spirit made by other distilleries, though much of it is aged at the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which has not distilled anything itself since 1992.

Diageo has so many predecessor companies that tracking any product in its portfolio is like sorting through the Biblical begats. Jeremiah Weed was created by Heublein, which was independent until it was acquired by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco (RJR) in 1982. RJR sold it to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. Grand Met merged with Guinness in 1997 to form Diageo. The big prize in all three deals was Smirnoff Vodka, but Jeremiah Weed went along for the ride.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Story Of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage.

In the autumn of 2006, Heaven Hill's Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series got a bit more interesting. That’s when they unveiled the 1997 vintage.

The 1997 was the first one not made at Heaven Hill’s Bardstown distillery (DSP-31). Heaven Hill continued to make bourbon without a distillery, first at Jim Beam, then at Brown-Forman. In 1999, Heaven Hill bought the Bernheim Distillery from Diageo, where they have been ever since.

In the current issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, which dropped this week, we look at the series from its beginnings 16 years ago, with special emphasis on ‘the wilderness years’ (1997-2001), vintages that are still on store shelves.

The 2002 vintage will be unveiled in October and start appearing at retail in January, assuming the usual pattern.

The August, 2011, issue of The Bourbon Country Reader is Volume 14, Number 1. In it, we also tell the 201-year story of Old Overholt Straight Rye, and review three micro-distillery whiskeys.

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.

Click here for more information.

Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format).

Click here to open or download the PDF document "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

After 207 Years, Bodies Of 13 Americans Still In Libya.

I've written before, here and here, about my family connection to an obscure bit of American history.

Dr. Jonathan Cowdery's father and my great-great-great-great-great grandfather were brothers. Dr. Cowdery was ship’s surgeon on the U.S.S. Philadelphia, which ran aground while fighting pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Three-hundred officers and sailors were captured and imprisoned in Tripoli. Thirteen officers and sailors were killed trying to rescue them. Dr. Cowdery identified the remains and supervised their burial in Green Square.

They're still there.

In the earliest of those two previous posts, I linked to a newspaper article that is no longer up. Here, instead, is a link to another account of the story on the "Remember the Intrepid" web site. It is run by Bill Kelly, who knows all about this stuff, especially the part about the remains of the 13 Americans still buried there. Although people in Libya have a lot going on right now, efforts to repatriate the remains continue, according to Kelly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Triple-S Makes Micheladas Fast And Easy.

Back in May, I told you about my late-in-life discovery of La Michelada, a beer-based cocktail of which I have become a fan.

I still see my girl, Monique, before every Chicago Fire home game. She’s the only vendor at Toyota Park who makes them. In case you're a Fire fan and would like to try one, she’s behind section 109, just south of the foot long sausage stand.

The term “Michelada” can cover many different preparations. The kind Monique makes is like a beer Bloody Mary.

Shortly after I posted my Michelada piece, I heard from Juan and Sasha Sotelo, who live in Brownsville, Texas, where they make a product called Triple-S Michelada Mix. Monique must be from Brownsville too, because Triple-S is right on the money as far as what I expect from my Michelada.

The Sotelos tell me they’re approaching their one year anniversary and their product is flying off the shelves. They just scored a big contract with H.E.B., a local mega-mart. Good for them, they seem like a nice young couple.

A 32-ounce bottle of Triple-S sells for $7.99 in grocery stores, $8.99 in liquor stores. That’s enough for eight Micheladas, at four ounces of mix to twelve ounces of beer, the ratio they recommend.

They also recommend ice. It gets really, really hot in Brownsville.

Triple-S makes a tasty Michelada, it eliminates the need to buy a bunch of ingredients you might otherwise not use, and it’s quick and easy.

The Sotelos say they’d like to have distribution in Chicago. Maybe I should introduce them to Monique?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Old Anvil Bourbon and Louisville's Mellwood Distillery.

I received an inquiry today about Old Anvil Bourbon and the results of my brief research are interesting enough to post, so here goes.

General Distillers was the post-1935 name for the Mellwood Distillery, which was established on the northeast side of Louisville in the 1860s by George W. Swearingen. It operated there until 1918, then came back in the same location after Prohibition under the General Distillers name.

The distillery was located on both the east and west sides of Mellwood Avenue between Frankfort Avenue and Brownsboro Road. There were several distilleries located in that same general area, all making use of Beargrass Creek.

Mellwood was a substantial distillery but, typical for the times, it sold whiskey as a commodity to middle-men who owned the brands and handled all of the sales and distribution. Brown-Forman, makers of Old Forester Bourbon, and a company that is still in business today, bought a lot of its whiskey from Mellwood pre-Prohibition.

After Prohibition, many companies like Brown-Forman that had been middle-men before 1920 bought distilleries and stopped buying from companies like Mellwood/General Distillers. Commodity producers like Mellwood/General continued well into the modern era, but were mostly gone by the mid-1980s. 

Such companies would sometimes issue their own, small brands -- a ‘friends and family’ proposition for the most part. Old Anvil may have been one of those. They would also produce proprietary brands for customers and even for clubs and other associations, even individuals. Old Anvil may have been created that way.

Most likely Old Anvil was a small, local, short-lived brand, possibly even a one-time thing. Note that the picture above says “bottled by.” This suggests the product was merely bottled there and not actually made there, and certainly suggests third-party ownership. This was just a bottling job, Mellwood/General had no other role. There’s no way to know who made the whiskey, though it was probably one of the other distilleries in the neighborhood.

At its height, Mellwood/General had a distillery, seven warehouses, a bottling hall, and other ancillary buildings. It stopped distilling in the 1960s and continued bottling operations for a few more years after that. I have visited the site and there doesn’t appear to be any trace of it remaining.

It's also possible that "General Distillers Corporation" was later used as an assumed business name by someone, a very common practice in the distilled spirits business, in which case it wouldn't even have been bottled at the Mellwood Avenue facility. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jack On CNBC Tonight.

Tonight, cable network CNBC, as part of its "CNBC Titans" series, presents an hour-long documentary about Jack Daniel's. It airs at 10 pm and 1 am ET. There are clips on their website. Also, look on the web site for an article about Jack that quotes me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Buffalo Trace Release Second Batch of Single Oak Bourbons.

This week, Buffalo Trace will release the second batch of bourbons produced for the Single Oak Project. If you aren't familiar with the Single Oak Project, go here and here.

This release will explore three different variables, recipe, grain size, and char level. Some of the bottles contain bourbon made with rye and others with wheat. The barrels themselves were made from different trees, each with varying degrees of thickness to their wood grain, from fine to very coarse. These barrels were charred at either a number three or number four char level to determine how the burn will alter the taste. All other variables in the experimental project, such as the entry proof, stave seasoning, tree cut, and warehouse location remain constant.

Grain size was one of the variables in the original release. The other two are new with this release.

The second release is made up of barrel numbers 29, 31, 61, 63, 93, 95, 125, 127, 157, 159, 189, 191.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Old Overholt. Rye Whiskey's Grand Old Man.

You’ve probably heard about the rye whiskey revival. It’s real, just still very small.

There are several new brands out there, and some old brands have been revived, but there is one — seldom mentioned by many of rye’s new fans and misunderstood by many others — that is the granddaddy of them all:

Old Overholt.

In about 1810, Abraham Overholt (1784-1870) and his brother shifted their family enterprise from general farming, in which making whiskey was a sideline, to making whiskey as a primary occupation. Their farm was about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The business thrived and Abraham brought his sons and then his grandsons into it. The A. Overholt Distilling Company continued to be owned and run by his descendants until it was closed by Prohibition.

Better known than Abraham Overholt or his whiskey is his grandson, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), one of the great turn-of-the-century American industrialists sometimes known as ‘robber barons.’ Overholt gave Frick his first job.

With his share of the family’s whiskey fortune, Frick began to invest in coal mines. Then he manufactured coke, which is essential for steel production.

Frick’s extraordinary wealth came primarily from steel and railroads, but he got a little of it from whiskey. Under his ownership, Old Overholt became the best selling brand of rye whiskey in the country.

When Prohibition began, the Overholt company obtained a medicinal whiskey license, which made it attractive to Seton Porter when he began to accumulate medicinal permits, whiskey, distilleries, and brands in about 1927 for what became the National Distillers Products Corporation.

After Prohibition, Old Overholt took its place in the National portfolio as their primary rye. Since National was one of the ‘big four’ companies that dominated the post-Prohibition industry, that automatically made it once again the top selling rye whiskey in the country.

But rye whiskey never recovered the share of market it had enjoyed before 1920. The ratio of bourbon-to-rye sales kept shifting in bourbon’s favor until rye was almost extinct. National Distillers eventually closed all of its Pennsylvania distilleries and shifted Old Overholt production to Kentucky, to the Forks of Elkhorn distillery outside of Frankfort where it also made Old Grand-Dad bourbon.

Jim Beam inherited Old Overholt when it merged with National Distillers in 1987. Beam immediately stopped distilling at Forks. When the rye whiskey made there ran out, Beam simply used the rye whiskey it was already making for Jim Beam Rye. Beam has done little with the brand except continue to make and distribute it.

You would expect Old Overholt to taste like Jim Beam Rye and it does. It tastes like it may be selected for more tannic barrel notes, because it has a bit more bite.

Rye production in Kentucky didn’t begin in the 1980s, when the last of the Eastern rye distilleries shut down. Even before Prohibition, Kentucky distilleries like the ones operated by Beam family members routinely made both bourbon and rye, so the Beam rye recipe probably has an old pedigree within the family. The whiskey has its detractors, but it is a legitimate style.

I’ve never had a problem finishing a bottle of it.