Monday, January 23, 2012

Cool Things Craft Distillers Are Doing Right Now.

Here are some cool things craft distillers around the country are doing right now.

Tom’s Foolery Distillery near Cleveland has established itself making apple brandy but since they got the old Michter’s barrel-a-day still, they’ve been laying down bourbon. Erik, their first employee, is a brewer by training so they’ve been experimenting with different malts and using two to three times the normal percentage of malt in their bourbon mashes. The first one was 64 percent corn, 14 percent rye and 21 percent malt. That was with a standard whiskey malt. They just finished running several batches with Vienna malt, and a mashbill of 36 percent malt, 57 percent corn and 7 percent rye. Next up: Pale Ale malt. They're getting help from the previous owner of the still, David Beam, and the last master distiller at Michter's in Pennsylvania, Dick Stoll. Beam never operated the still so the last man who did was Stoll, in Pennsylvania more than 20 years ago.

Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York has just added a warehouse building for both aging stock and finished goods, both of which had been stored in the distillery itself. Why? Because their aging stock has grown to more than 400 barrels and they were running out of space in the production area, which they need for additional fermenters that are coming soon. They also recently received a Good Food award for their McKenzie Rye Whiskey. The Good Food Awards honor "producers of exceptionally delicious products that also promote sustainability and social good."

Garrison Brothers Distilling will begin to bottle a new batch of its Texas bourbon on February 1st, so it won’t be long before new stock shows up in stores. It usually sells out fast and Texans trying to find it were frustrated in their hunt by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), which had a crazy rule that prevented Garrison Brothers from telling consumers which stores still had it on the shelves. Garrison sued the TABC and won. That was just before Christmas. Now when stocks run low at retail, the distillery will be able to post on their website a list of stores that still have bottles to sell.

A few misguided micros think they can build themselves up by trashing the big whiskey-makers. The more enlightened envision a rising tide that raises all ships. Some of the latter are even sourcing ("curating" is the new term) whiskey from majors to sell as their own brands, alongside products they make themselves. Utah’s High West was a pioneer at this and has several, mostly using rye whiskey, the best-known being their original brand, Rendezvous. West Virginia’s Smooth Ambler has a new one called Old Scout that is a five-year-old straight bourbon bottled at 49.5% ABV.


Paul said...

As one of the 'micros', I simply can't agree more that the rising tide lifts all boats. And, rather than slamming the 'big boys' - I fear them - they make some truly spectacular whiskey, and their resources let them do some amazing stuff. I'm not sure we can make a blanket rule that the big boys don't make bad whiskey, but the duds among the products made by the big boys are rare and definitely the exception to the rule. For us, we are just trying to do our own thing, producing the best whiskey we can - we make bourbon, but its not the same as what they make.

Don M. said...

Glad to see a post like this, Chuck. I was beginning to think you didn't like what we are trying to do in the artisanal spirits movement at all.

Totally agree with Paul, there's lots of great product out there from distillers at many scales. We are trying to return to traditional methodologies and bring a sense of terroir to whiskey that you can't get on a large scale. It's not categorically better or worse, just different and (we like to think) unique.

Ben said...

Totally agree that all of these ideas sound cool. That said, I wish I liked the Garrison stuff more than I do. I have some friends from San Antonio who tracked down a bottle and gave it to me when they stopped through on their way home from X-Mas in Illinois (I'm in Missouri, so I'm on their way).

Don't get me wrong--a micro-distilled bourbon from another state is an awesome present for a bourbon enthusiast like myself, but when I tried it, I was all kinds of underwhelmed. It just tastes too darn young. It's not awful, and I've had a little luck mixing it (did a whiskey sour with it that was nice), but I pretty much find myself wishing I could taste how it is with another 4-6 years in the barrel. But if they're selling out of product now, maybe that will give them the capital to do better stuff later. And I've certainly had micro stuff that is less good.

I will say--the bottle is cool.