Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brandy And The Holidays.

This is the time of year when people who never buy brandy buy brandy.

Although bourbon whiskey is great in egg nog, many people prefer the more traditional brandy. It also figures in other holiday and winter season recipes, not just for drinks but also desserts and other dishes.

So this is when a lot of people who aren't normally brandy drinkers buy and drink brandy, and a lot of that brandy is American-made.

Most American brandy comes from California, or so most people think. Two of the five largest brands are entirely made in California while the other three are distilled in California from California-grown grapes, but aged and bottled in Kentucky. And as I told you Sunday, four of the top five American brandies are aged in used bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels.

The United States doesn't have the fine brandy tradition of France, Spain, and Greece. Except for a few boutiques like Germain-Robin, American brandy producers go for a utilitarian spirit, typically aged for two to three years. Most of it is perfectly acceptable for egg nog, punches, and other holiday uses, and it's much less expensive than the imports.

There are four major grape brandy producers in the United States. I specified 'grape' there because Laird's, in New Jersey, is technically a brandy producer but their fruit of choice is apples.

There are countless small brandy producers, in California and elsewhere, mostly associated with vineyards and wineries.

The Big Four are all in California. They are:

1.  E&J Gallo, in Modesto. They make E&J Brandy, the most popular brand. At about three million cases a year, E&J outsells all other brandies, domestic and imported.

2.  F. Korbel and Brothers/Heck Cellars, in Arvin. Korbel Brandy is #4 in sales at about 350-thousand cases. Although Brown-Forman markets and distributes the better-known Korbel Sparkling Wines line, its sole involvement with the brandy is in supplying Jack Daniel's barrels for its aging. Korbel's sales are concentrated in Wisconsin.

3.  O'Neill Vintners & Distillers, in Parlier. O'Neill is one of the two big independents. It provides all of the distillate for Heaven Hill's Christian Brothers (#3) and Coronet (#5) brands, and possibly some of #2 Paul Masson for Constellation. It produces more than five million gallons of brandy and neutral spirit a year. Some customers, like Heaven Hill, just buy their distillate. For others they do the aging, blending, and bottling too.

4.  Vie-Del Company, in Fresno. Vie-Del is the other big independent. It's a former Seagram's plant, now owned by the Nury family. Together Vie-Del and O'Neill supply distillate for just about every brand except Gallo and Korbel. Like O'Neill, Vie-Del is strictly a producer, selling grape juice, wine, and brandy to customers who handle the branding, marketing and distribution of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Heaven Hill Finds Another Good Use For Corn.

When producers send me whiskey to taste, they invariably use a lot of packing material. When Heaven Hill sends me something that requires packing peanuts, they use the biodegradable kind made from corn.

Just like their whiskey.

Biodegradable peanuts are non-toxic, so you can just throw them in the sink and let the water run. They dissolve completely in a few minutes. Warm water seems to works better than cold and it helps if you stir them a bit. While they are dissolving the kitchen smells like fresh corn. Nice.

The alternative is polystyrene peanuts, which are made from petroleum. They can be reused but not recycled. The UPS Store where I do my shipping accepts and reuses them, but putting them in a bag and taking them over there isn't nearly as easy as just throwing them in the sink and turning the water on.

If you get something packed with peanuts and you're not sure whether or not they're biodegradable, hold one under running water and squeeze it a few times. If it's biodegradable it will get sticky and start to dissolve. Polystyrene peanuts don't do anything.

Polystyrene peanuts are a little lighter and about 10 percent cheaper, so congratulations to Heaven Hill for making the greener choice and demonstrating that corn isn't just good for making whiskey.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Used Barrel Uses.

A unique characteristic of most American whiskey types is that they must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Straight bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and straight rye must be so aged. Since those three types represent such a high percentage of U.S.-made aged spirits, most used American whiskey barrels (hundreds of thousands of them every year) are sent to Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, and other places where they are used to age virtually every other type of aged spirit.

Heaven Hill is the only major distillery that makes corn whiskey for sale and one of its brands, Mellow Corn, is aged in used barrels.

I assume the barrels Heaven Hill retains are some of the most desirable ones.

The most desirable ones are the youngest, i.e., the barrels that held bourbon for the shortest amount of time. The bourbon that is used for the ready-to-drink market in Australia, where they sell bourbon and ginger ale, and bourbon and cola pre-mixed, is barely two years old--just old enough to be called 'straight bourbon.'

I imagine those are the barrels they retain for aging Mellow Corn.

Mellow Corn is a very small but growing brand. Heaven Hill's principal use for used barrels is for aging their brandies, primarily Christian Brothers. In addition to the youth of the barrels, there is the fact that both the brandies and the bourbon for the ready-to-drinks are aged at Bernheim in Louisville, whereas the rest of Heaven Hill's bourbons are aged in Bardstown and vicinity. I don't know for sure but I suspect Mellow Corn is aged at Bernheim too.

The masonry warehouses at Bernheim are mostly empty, so anything they can age there and not ship to Bardstown they probably do age there. Parker and Craig Beam don't like the way the masonry warehouses age so with the exception of the RTD stuff and some contract production, they don't age any bourbon there.

Most U.S.-made brandy is aged in used bourbon barrels. In addition to Christian Brothers, Heaven Hill also makes Coronet. Korbel brandy is aged in used Jack Daniel's barrels, part of what Brown-Forman pays for the rights to market Korbel Sparkling Wine. Paul Masson Brandy is still aged and bottled at the Barton 1792 Distillery on behalf of the distillery's previous owner, Constellation Brands.

The best-selling U.S.-made brandy is E&J, which is Gallo. They use their own used wine barrels.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gift Shopping Tips, Part Two.

Let’s say someone on your list likes whiskey and you are thinking about giving them whiskey as a gift, but you don’t feel entirely confident making the selection yourself.

This post is for you.

On Wednesday, I told you about the outstanding giftiness of my book, DVD and newsletter. All I’ll add is how great would it be to give someone the book and a great bottle, or the DVD and a great bottle? This post is meant to help you with the great bottle part.

To begin, you have to know what your gift recipient usually drinks. If all you know is that the person drinks whiskey, that’s not enough. Even if you know they drink scotch or bourbon, you’re still flying blind. Your best bet is to find out what specific brand or brands they like and if you can get them in order of preference, all the better. This is especially important for scotch drinkers.

Armed with that information, you can make good use of your neighborhood whiskey monger.

First, it’s never wrong to give someone exactly what they usually drink. If that’s what the person likes, why rock the boat? The typical gift-giver, however, feels compelled to do something ‘special.’ Fair enough. That’s why many major brands offer gift packages at this time of year.

The typical whiskey gift box contains a bottle and two glasses, but sometimes it’s a cocktail shaker or something else. They try to price the gift boxes close to the product’s regular price, so they’re usually a good value. Your gift recipient can always use a couple more glasses.

You won’t have many choices because typically each brand only does one gift box per season.

Another good tip is limited editions. Find out if any of the brands your recipient likes is offering a limited edition. The real question will be whether the store has any in stock. Because they are limited, in short supply, and usually sell out, they are automatically giftable.

Don’t confuse limited editions with commemorative bottlings, although either might make a good gift. If the person is primarily a whiskey drinker, then they probably won’t care about a commemorative bottling, which is a special bottle that contains the same whiskey as usual. Jack Daniel’s and Maker’s Mark, among others, do a lot of these.

On the other hand, if your gift recipient is a Jack Daniel’s or Maker’s Mark fanatic, a commemorative might be perfect.

A true limited edition is more than a different bottle, it’s a different whiskey. Although the only difference may be age or proof (i.e., alcohol content), sometimes it’s completely different, like the annual Master’s Collection by Woodford Reserve. Four Roses does two annual limited edition releases. You can also find limited editions in the scotch, Irish and Canadian whisky segments. Just tell the whiskey monger your recipient’s usual brand and ask if that line has any limited editions available.

Warning. Limited editions can be expensive.

Another possibility is that your whiskey monger will have a house selection of your recipient’s brand. This is a type of limited edition. The store’s whiskey buyer selects a specific barrel of that whiskey, then the whole barrel is bottled for exclusive sale at that store. This makes a great gift because it is simultaneously special and unique, yet also exactly the same as the recipient’s usual brand. It’s usually a good value too because it rarely costs more than the regular product, and sometimes less.

Similar, and with some overlap, is the line ‘step up,’ also a good gift. Many brands have a ‘good, better, best’ hierarchy, with pricing to match. Often the Johnnie Walker Red drinker really prefers Johnnie Walker Black, but it’s too expensive for regular use. For that person, a bottle of Black is the perfect gift.

This can sometimes go wrong. The Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 drinker may prefer it to the more costly Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, but it’s worth a shot. You’ll get an A for effort.

The riskiest course is to tell the whiskey monger what your recipient drinks and then ask, “can you recommend something similar?” There you mainly need to know that your recipient likes to try new things. That way, even if they don’t adore your gift, they will at least enjoy the experience of trying it.

Finally, you need a good whiskey monger. Most should be able to provide this level of service, the best ones thrive on exactly this challenge, but there are no guarantees. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel the love, go somewhere else.

If you hope to receive a whiskey gift you might want to print this out and leave it in a strategic location.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gift Shopping Tips, Part One.

If you're a regular visitor here, you've probably noticed the thumbnails down the right hand side of this page. Maybe you've even checked them out. But being as the season of giving is upon us, allow me to call them to your attention.

I'm preparing a post for Friday that will give some genuine gift shopping tips to please the whiskey drinkers on your list. This post today is a shameless plug for my small portfolio of products and their outstanding giftiness.

First, the book: BOURBON, STRAIGHT; The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey. It's ideal for anyone with the slightest interest in whiskey, from the greenest beginner to the most bourbon-soaked veteran. Clicking here (or on the thumbnail in the right column) takes you to my website. The advantage of buying it there is that I will autograph it for no extra charge. Look for the box that says 'inscription' on the order form.

It's also available on Amazon. They have been discounting it lately, so go there if you want to save a couple bucks. At the moment it's $15.64, you save 32%! (Sorry, no autographs.)

Next comes the DVD, "Made and Bottled in Kentucky." It's a one-hour documentary, produced for public television. It complements the book and, like the book, veteran bourbon fans will enjoy it as much as novices. Click here to get it from my website or here to get it from Amazon.

If you're old school, I have some VHS tapes of it to sell, but only on the web site, no Amazon.

Finally, the newsletter. Consider giving a gift subscription, for the bourbon lover who has everything. I'll admit you have to be pretty into it to want the newsletter, but for a real American whiskey fan there is nothing else like it. It's only available on the web site, here.

For all of the above, use the 'special instructions' box on the web site if you are having the gift shipped to the recipient and would like a gift card included. I don't offer gift wrapping but Amazon does.

Anything you buy through the website is processed by CCNow, my e-commerce provider, so you don't have to worry about me being your main security bulwark. (It would worry me.) I've used CCNow for years and never had a complaint. In addition to all major credit cards, the web site accepts payments through PayPal.

For more information about CCNow, go here.

The last item on the right is a link to the I Wish Lessons web site. There you can buy tickets to my whiskey classes here in Chicago as gifts, or maybe you should call them scholarships. I generally teach all of the whiskey classes I Wish offers in Chicago but before you buy a ticket, confirm with them that I will be the coach (their preferred term) for that particular class. Here are some I know I'm scheduled to teach.

Check back here on Friday for some actual shopping tips about whiskey gifts. It will be the sort of post that someone hoping to receive a whiskey gift might want to print out and leave in a strategic location.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dispute Between KDA And The Sazerac Company Is Settled.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) and Sazerac Company, Inc., today announced that the groups have reached a settlement over disputed trademark issues. Although terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be released to the public, the result is evident from the announcement's wording. KDA continues to own the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® trademark, but Sazerac is allowed to refer to the 'bourbon trail' generically when promoting tourism at its three Kentucky facilities.

The announcement brings an end to litigation filed in U.S. District Court in May 2010 by the KDA against Sazerac, a Louisiana-based company that owns the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, and Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro. In response to KDA’s lawsuit, Sazerac countersued the KDA. The counterclaims against KDA have also been resolved as a result of today’s settlement.

Sazerac Company resigned from the KDA, a non-profit trade association based in Frankfort, in December 2009. Members of the KDA include Beam Global Spirits & Wine (Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), Brown-Forman, Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey.

“We’re pleased that an amicable resolution has been reached in this important matter,” said KDA President Eric Gregory. “The KDA and its members look forward to continue building the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience and promoting our signature industry’s rich history to visitors from around the world.”

“Sazerac’s three Kentucky distilleries, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery and The Glenmore Distillery look forward to continue developing their distillery tours along the bourbon trail,” said Marketing Service Director, Meredith Moody.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Women And Whiskey.

I was asked today if I knew of any whiskey brands named after women. The questioner mentioned Four Roses, which is a stretch.

There certainly have been women in the industry, though not many. There are a few famous cases pre-Prohibition of women taking over the family distillery after their husbands died, but as managers not distillers. (In many cases, their husbands weren’t distillers either.) Mary Dowling, who ran Waterfill & Frazier, comes to mind. Agusta Dickel similarly helped run George Dickel for many years after George’s death. But much like the Jewish families who owned distilleries but never put their names on the labels, there have been many unsung women in the whiskey biz.

In modern times, Rachel Barrie of Glenmorangie has the title “Whisky Creator and Master Blender.” Jill Jones is the executive in charge of all production at Brown-Forman, including Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.

Craig Beam, master distiller at Heaven Hill, has no sons but two teenage daughters and he hopes at least one of them will want to carry on the Beam family tradition.

I’m 60, so I’ve watched this business for a long time. My mom drank nothing but bourbon her whole life as did many women of her generation. Women not drinking whiskey is the more recent phenomenon, but in the last ten years or so the pendulum has swung the other way. I teach a ‘whiskey 101’ class and frequently women outnumber men among the students. I taught a bourbon class last night and I believe there were 5 women out of 13 students. Three were with guys and the last two were with each other. Often in the classes I get groups of 2 to 5 women taking the class together, and their numbers equal or exceed the number who come with male dates. They are invariably young (under 30), as are most of the students in my classes.

Ten years ago, women were rare at whiskey events of any kind, unless they were working, and 90 percent of the women who did attend did so with male dates. But today, among young adults, there seems to be very little difference between the genders in their interest in whiskey. At least that's so here in Chicago.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Proximo To Buy LDI Bottling.

Proximo Spirits, the New Jersey company behind 1800 Tequila and 3 Olives Vodka, among other brands, is in the process of buying the finished goods warehouse and bottling hall part of the former Seagram's distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, according to Proximo CEO Mark Teasdale. As we reported on October 21, the distillery and aging warehouses are being acquired by MGP.

Since the MGP announcement indicated that the distillery sale was conditional on a successful sale of the bottling operation, there was great interest in that part of the transaction.

Proximo popped up on the radar screens of whiskey enthusiasts last year when it was revealed that they had acquired Stranahan's in Colorado, the makers of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. Teasdale says they have no plans to bottle Stranahan's in Indiana. "We consider Stranahan's a jewel," said Teasdale. "It's a special thing and a Colorado brand." Although Proximo is expanding the Stranahan's operation and increasing production, the brand's strong growth in Colorado has limited their ability to distribute it outside the state. "We want to be loyal to the base," says Teasdale.

Lawrenceburg will continue to be a contract bottler and Teasdale hopes they can retain as many of the current customers as possible.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best Use For Turkey Leftovers: The Hot Brown.

There is more to Kentucky than bourbon, including foods you won’t find anywhere else. As we are entering prime turkey-eating season, here is the best and highest use for leftover turkey: the Hot Brown.

The Hot Brown is a very rich, open-face sandwich. It was created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel by Chef Fred K. Schmidt. The recipe below, which claims to be the original, was published by Cissy Gregg, the late Food Editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Hot Brown (4 servings)
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 slices toast, with crusts cut off
Turkey breast slices
Crisp-fried bacon, crumbled
Mushroom slices, sauteed

Saute onion in butter until transparent; add flour and combine. Add milk, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Cook on medium heat until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Add cheese and continue heating until they blend. Remove from heat.

Put one slice of toast in each of four oven-proof individual serving dishes. Top each piece of toast with slices of turkey. Cut remaining toast slices diagonally and place on sides of sandwiches. Ladle cheese sauce over sandwiches. Place sandwiches under broiler until sauce begins to bubble. Garnish with crumbled bacon and sauteed mushroom slices and serve immediately.

If two cups sounds like a lot of sauce for four servings, you have perceived the essence of the Hot Brown. The typical Hot Brown is smothered in sauce. You’ll also notice it says nothing about heating up the turkey slices. You can but it's not necessary. This is a recipe designed for leftovers.

There are many variations. Most places don’t crumble the bacon, and there are many substitutes for the mushrooms, including tomato slices and asparagus spears. Some simply forgo the vegetables altogether. Cissy Gregg even suggested you can substitute chicken for the turkey, but I can’t get behind that.

If you’re traveling to Kentucky, you will find the Hot Brown on the menus of many restaurants. The Brown Hotel still serves it, of course. Kurtz’s, in Bardstown, has a good one too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Latest Outrage: Spirit Whiskey.

Spirit Whiskey.

It's a new term to most people. It even has a good sound too it, like it might be something great.

It's not.

Unless you're a vodka drinker. But in that case, you probably should just stick to vodka.

It's up to you.

The web site for new Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey says, "You won't find rednecks in overalls or middle-aged men in tweed flat caps anywhere near a bottle of Kansas Clean Distilled Whiskey." Instead, the web site shows you pictures of hip, attractive, 20-somethings who supposedly drink this new product.

Other brands trying to catch this wave are American Spirit Whiskey and WhipperSnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey.

These companies didn't invent 'spirit whiskey.' It has been in the federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (that's the official federal regulatory rule book) all along. It just hasn't been made much in recent years. There's a good reason for that.

The rules define 'Spirit Whiskey' as a combination of at least 5 percent whiskey and neutral spirit, i.e., vodka. That may sound a little like blended whiskey, except there the minimum is 20 percent whiskey and the whiskey has to be straight whiskey, meaning whiskey that has been distilled below 80 percent alcohol and aged for at least two years in new, charred oak barrels.

So consider Seagram's Seven, an American Blended Whiskey. It is 25 percent straight whiskey and 75 percent grain spirit (i.e., vodka with a few months in wood). Some people like that sort of thing, but most whiskey drinkers consider it brown vodka. Similar to Canadian whisky, it has a very mild whiskey flavor with strong vanilla notes. It's not ghastly, it's just very mild and superficial.

In the marketplace, American blended whiskey is an inexpensive, inoffensive alcohol delivery system. Typically sold in plastic 1.75 liter bottles, most go for less than $20, about the same as vodka.

For spirit whiskey, the whiskey component can be straight whiskey but it doesn't have to be. It just has to meet the very low threshold requirement for whiskey, which is itself damn near vodka.

So if it sounds like spirit whiskey is vodka with a tiny little bit of something that is barely but still technically whiskey added to it, it's because that's exactly what it is.

Spirit whiskey was put into the regs right after Prohibition, at a time when fully-aged whiskey was scarce and vodka was virtually unknown. It was a way to make something called whiskey that required very little whiskey to make. When fully-aged whiskey became readily available, spirit whiskey died out. 

What's the point of reintroducing spirit whiskey? The premise seems to be that vodka drinkers want to keep drinking vodka, but want to call it whiskey. Spirit whiskey allows you to pour virtual-vodka from a bottle that says 'whiskey' on it, if that is what your self-image requires.

Unlike blended whiskey, which is at least a good value, these new products are all trying to position themselves as premium and are priced accordingly. For the same price you can get a decent whiskey or, for that matter, a decent vodka.

The Kansas people also say this, "Indeed whiskey is far more exciting than the next trendy vodka."

Sorry, but spirit whiskey is the next trendy vodka.

(Full disclosure: I wear tweed flat caps.)

Spirit whiskey most resembles but is not vodka. It scarcely resembles whiskey. Think of is as whiskey's ghost, an emanation faint and evanescent. It is whiskey's echo. It is not whiskey.

LDI An "Exciting Acquisition," Says MGP CEO.

Here is an update on the LDI acquisition by MGP, which we first reported on October 21.

MGP CEO Tim Newkirk has this to say in their quarterly financial statement, released today. "Growing our sales into the consumer packaged goods market is our number one priority. We are on the verge of greatly increasing our presence in distilled beverages, specifically bourbon and rye whiskey, with the pending acquisition of Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. Our integration teams are making significant progress in planning to transition the existing production facilities and their customers as we target completion of this exciting acquisition sometime early in 2012."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Upcoming Whiskey Classes Taught By Me.

I teach whiskey classes here in Chicago through I Wish Lessons. These are introductory classes and last about a hour.

The next one is a bourbon class next Tuesday, 11/15, at French Accent in the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, on the second floor. French Accent is a new venue for us and since we're usually on the North Side, this will be good for people who prefer a loop location, close to Union Station.

On Wednesday, 11/16, I'm teaching a Whiskey 101 class, in which we'll taste Scotch, Irish, Bourbon and American rye. It's at Fion, 426 W. Diversey.

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 always held in bars and 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.

Here is what I have coming up after next week. None of the locations are set yet. As you can see, we're also trying to get a Tequila class going. Go to the I Wish website to sign up or see what other classes they offer.

Wednesday, 12/7 – Tequila
Thursday, 12/15 – Whiskey 101
Tuesday, 12/20 – Bourbon
Wednesday, 12/21 – Single Malt Scotch

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, November 7, 2011

What Do Terns 'High Rye' And 'Low Rye' Mean?

The question was posed to me about the rye content of bourbon recipes. "What does the industry mean," the questioner wondered, "when they say 'high' or 'low' rye?"

I answered that 'high rye and 'low rye' are terms used more by enthusiasts than by producers. Four Roses is about the only producer that uses them, and they would probably say 'high rye' and 'standard rye.' The two mash bills at Four Roses are 20% and 35% rye, respectively. Even their 'low rye' is high relative to the rest of the industry, where 12% to 15% rye is more typical.

Buffalo Trace, which also makes two rye-recipe bourbon mash bills, explicitly rejects the high/low terminology. They won't reveal their exact mash bills, but #1 is probably less than 10% rye, while #2 is nearer to the 12% to 15% standard.

Bulleit is one of the few producers that talks about rye content. They use the Four Roses 35% rye mash bill. Old Grand-Dad/Basil Hayden, made by Jim Beam, is the other true 'high rye' mash bill, at about 30%. Their other recipe, the one used for Jim Beam and most of their other bourbons, is about 15% rye.

Dynamic Beverages, a small producer, uses the terms which they picked up from enthusiasts. They get their whiskey from LDI which, as a former Seagram's plant, uses many of the same recipes as Four Roses, and Dynamic uses the term 'high rye,' but the 20% rye recipe is hardly 'low.' Their Redemption Bourbon uses the 35% rye formula while their Temptation Bourbon uses the 20% rye recipe.

Four Roses, LDI, Beam, Buffalo Trace and Brown Forman are the only major distilleries that make two or more different rye-recipe bourbons.

At Brown-Forman, the Woodford/Old Forester recipe is 18% rye, Jack Daniel's is 8% and Early Times is 11%. So they have three different recipes, two in the 'typical' range and one legitimately low.

While there is no industry standard, I would refer to anything with more than 30% rye as 'high' and anything less than 12% as 'low,' while anything in between is 'standard' or 'typical.'

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are You Doing Enough To Help Buffalo Trace Create The Perfect Bourbon?

Well, are you?

If not, your next chance has arrived. This month, Buffalo Trace Distillery (BT) will release the third round of Single Oak Project Bourbon, another case of twelve 375 ml bottles, each containing one of the 192 slightly different bourbons created for this project.

This is round three of sixteen. I first wrote about the project here.

Since the first release, nearly 1,000 consumers have posted feedback on the Single Oak Project website, rating some or all of the barrels they’ve tasted. Wheaters from high wood (the top of the tree) are leading, barrels #61 and #127, specifically.

Through this feedback, BT will determine which very specific characteristics bourbon drinkers like best, with a goal of using that information to create a 'Holy Grail' bourbon. The more people who participate, the more useful the results will be.

It’s a very long-term project.

For each release, BT cleverly compresses the number of variables presented, so while the project looks at seven variables, each 12-bottle release deals with no more than three. Therefore, any two bottles will teach you something cool. You can, for example, taste two whiskeys in which the only variable is barrel entry proof. Everything else is controlled for -- everything -- and you can taste the difference.

Although Single Oak Project Bourbon is sold only in the U.S., BT has recorded web site visitors from 31 countries.

This new release explores recipe, wood grain, and barrel entry proof. You can compare rye-recipe bourbon to wheat-recipe bourbon; and barrel entry proofs of 105° (52.5% ABV) or 125° (62.5% ABV), the legal maximum; as well as barrel wood grain rated as coarse, average, or fine.

The suggested retail price is $46.35 per bottle (375 ml), but some retailers are selling Single Oak by the case only.

You have to admire BT’s audacity, first in postulating that bourbon perfection can be attained, then in launching a project to attain it that will take 20 or more years to complete. Like building a medieval cathedral, it's a project to span generations.