Monday, April 30, 2012

Big Fun In Frankfort.

Thank you to everyone who attended my American Whiskey 101 class at Capital Cellars on Saturday. Special thanks to Capital Cellars and proprietor Rachael Peake for hosting, to Rachael's helpers for helping, and to Carl Shields for instigating. I had a great time and downtown Frankfort is a fun and lively place on a warm, late-April afternoon-into-evening.

We hope to make it a regular thing.

Capital Cellars is unusual in that it is a retail wine and spirits shop with a bar and restaurant, all in the same space. They have pleasant outdoor seating on Broadway, a terrific bourbon selection, and special expertise in the growing number of Kentucky-made wines. It's a very comfortable and relaxed place. I saw one woman cheerfully enjoying her white wine on the rocks.

Frankfort, as you may know, is the state capital and has a lot of history. It is home to the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, the commonwealth's main history museum, and many other museums and historic sites. Located at the base of steep cliffs along the Kentucky River, it's quite picturesque. There is challenging white water canoeing and kayaking on nearby Elkhorn Creek, the lower part of which is pleasant for any skill level. Buffalo Trace is the local distillery. It's close to Lexington, Lawrenceburg, and Versailles.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's a good place to base your Kentucky getaway. It has plenty of amenities but more of a small town feel than Louisville or Lexington.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Flavored Whiskey Leads Spirits Growth.

Shanken is reporting today that flavored whiskeys were the fastest-growing spirits type in the U.S. market in the first quarter of 2012—rising 154.8% to 94,000 cases.

The category is defined as flavored whiskeys and whiskey-based liqueurs. They were already doing pretty well. For 2011, its introductory year, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey sold 320,000 cases. In its second year, Jim Beam Red Stag sold 300,000 cases. Veteran Wild Turkey American Honey sold 230,000 cases.

The original two Evan Williams-based liqueurs, Honey Reserve and Cherry Reserve, sold about 100,000 cases combined. The honey and cherry expressions of Seagrams 7 Crown sold about 80,000 cases combined.

If you're reading this, these products are not intended for you, but they may be intended for someone close to you. They're for people who want to belong to a particular brand family but who don't like straight whiskey.

The guys are drinking Jack and Coke, and the girls are drinking Jack Honey and Coke.

We're told these products are good because they introduce new consumers to the whiskey category, though it's more likely that most of these consumers have already rejected whiskey and this is their alternative.

Another rationale is that anything which causes more whiskey to be produced and consumed is good. That's better. It's a testament to how popular whiskey has become that so many people want to launch new, arguably non-whiskey products using a whiskey platform.

Honey is the most popular flavor, with cherry second. Several brands are launching hot cinnamon versions. Can whipped cream be far behind?

It's hard to experiment with whiskey when the aging cycle is involved. Flavored products avoid that problem so they are relatively low risk. It remains to be seen if flavored whiskey will have any real staying power.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Come See Me In Frankfort This Coming Saturday.

Rachael tells me there are still a few tickets left for "American Whiskey 101 with Charles Cowdery" at Capital Cellars, 227 W. Broadway, Frankfort, Kentucky, this Saturday, April 28, from 4 to 6 PM.

The class will be an introduction to bourbon and other American whiskeys, but we'll get as 'advanced' as the class wants and time permits.

You’ll learn what whiskey is, how it compares to other distilled spirits, and how American whiskey compares to other world whiskeys, such as scotch, Canadian, and Irish. Production methods, recipes, tasting techniques, and history are all covered.

And we will taste four, maybe five whiskeys (Class Theme: "All Bourbon, All 100 proof and Above"). The class will be informal and student participation is encouraged. You'll also have a chance to buy copies of my book, Bourbon, Straight, and my DVD documentary, "Made and Bottled in Kentucky."

Cost is $30 ($25 for Cru Club Members). Contact Rachael Peake at Capital Cellars, 502-352-2600, for more information.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Plea To American Whiskey Producers: Don't Give Up On Age Statements.

Recently, W. L. Weller Special Reserve lost its 7-year-old age statement. Before that it was Weller Antique (7 years), Evan Williams 1783 (10 years), Evan Williams black label (7 years) and others. Knob Creek has always been 9-years-old but the new Knob Creek Rye is NAS (No Age Statement). It hasn't happened yet, but Beam has gotten a new NAS label approved for Basil Hayden's, which has been 8-years old since its introduction 20 years ago.

What is an age statement? It is a declaration of the whiskey's minimum age that appears on its label. 'Minimum' means that the stated age has to be that of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Older whiskey is okay but nothing younger than the stated age is permitted. Age statements are regulated by the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau, a branch of the U.S. Treasury.

In American whiskey, age statements are required for any product that is less than 4-years-old, so the absence of an age statement means the product is at least 4-years-old.

Only age statements on labels count. If the producer tells you the age of something, but it's not on the label, well, let's just say that's not the same thing.

For producers, age statements are a double-edged sword. Without them, the producer has more flexibility. Age, after all, is just a number. The maturity of the whiskey as reflected in its taste is what matters. These days, when most producers are struggling to meet demand, age statements can seem like more trouble than they're worth.

But there are good business reasons to keep using age statements. Whiskey enthusiasts are a small cadre but we buy a lot of whiskey. We like age statements. We know they aren't the only measure of a whiskey's quality or character, and we know older isn't necessarily better, but it's like any other information. Assuming it is factual and reliable, the more information you have about something, the easier it is to make a purchase decision.

It seems to be only American producers who are turning away from age statements. In the scotch segment we're seeing more, not fewer.

What companies forget is that if you tend to like, for example, bourbon that is more than 6 years old, you will look for age statements that give you that information when you are looking for something new to try, and ignore all NAS products unless you are already familiar with them. It is, therefore, often a criteria for someone who wants to try something new, a quick way to reduce the number of candidates. If you're a producer, don't you want that trial? Isn't attracting new customers usually one of the pillars of successful brand growth?

The producer counts on regular drinkers of the newly-NAS product to either not notice the change or not care. They may be right, but that doesn't mean going NAS is cost-free. To the extent that age statements are important to attracting new customers, you give up some percentage of your potential growth when you go NAS. Is that good business?

One hopes the companies know this and have just decided, for cost reasons, to set the bar for age statements a little higher, above 8 years, maybe, or 10. Let's hope that's the case because if producers have decided they can't risk age statements at any level, they're making a mistake that could be fatal to the continuing profitable growth of American whiskey.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Mint Julep, An Appreciation.

If ever there was a special occasion drink, it is the mint julep, so closely has it come to be associated with the Kentucky Derby. (Two weeks from today, May 5.)

The julep is a very ancient cocktail type, going back to a time when distilled spirits were considered medicine and, by some, magic. Mint was just one expression. In Colonial Virginia, a julep made with spearmint was a popular summer refreshment. In addition to spearmint and alcohol, sugar was the other principal ingredient.

Bourbon whiskey is usually the alcohol, but Straight Rye has a venerable history in mint julep recipes too.

Kentucky was originally part of Virginia and many of her first settlers came from the Old Dominion. They brought their julep recipes with them.

You will see julep recipes everywhere over the next couple of weeks, but how you make it isn't as important as how you drink it. A mint julep is not like a cocktail in the ordinary sense. It is more like a shooter. It should be made quickly, served immediately and consumed promptly, before the ice starts to melt and water the drink.

The julep is at its peak of flavor the instant it is completed and every moment that passes thereafter diminishes its quality. There should be just enough liquid in the glass for one or two good swallows.

It's hot. You're thirsty. Drink, drink.

Taken appropriately in a suitable context the mint julep can be delightful. Its sensuality can be nearly overpowering.

Here is a recipe that is authentic, tasty and easy. First, muddle a few fresh mint leaves with simple syrup. There are specialized tools for doing this, but a spoon works fine. 'Muddle' just means crush the mint leaves into the syrup. Fill the glass with crushed ice, then with bourbon. Stir one or two times, garnish with more fresh mint leaves, serve, and drink.

To make multiple juleps at the same time, have your ice and bourbon ready. Then in a bowl make enough mint muddle for one round. Place some of the muddle into the bottom of each glass, fill them with ice and bourbon, and stir. Add mint leaf garnish and serve. The ability to make a round of juleps quickly but with style is a practiced and prized art in Kentucky.

The classic serving container is a sterling silver cup. Silver plate and pewter are also popular.

If you want a cocktail you can nurse, use cubed ice instead of crushed, but beware. Under any circumstances, a watered-down mint julep is a pretty sad thing. The whiskey starts to taste sour and the mint gets bitter.

As you can image, the mint julep is not a good session drink. For something you can stay with all day, take the julep and mohito-ize it. One trick is to infuse mint into your simple syrup. That way the drink is just whiskey, syrup, ice and club soda, plus the fresh mint garnish. To keep your mint fresh all day, keep the sprigs upright in a glass with a little water in it.

If you want the spirit of the thing without the work, a few sprigs of fresh mint in your standard bourbon on-the-rocks is a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Siebel Institute Craft Distilling Operations And Technology Course, June 4-8.

Chicago's Siebel Institute of Technology has long been the gold standard for brewer education and they have moved smoothly into a similar spot when it comes to training distillers. Good thing, too, because the companies that used to do it, such as Seagram's, are all gone.

The June 4-8 course is being conducted in conjunction with the Ethanol Technology Institute. It is designed to give students the critical information they need to create distilled spirits in a small-scale distillation environment. With content created and presented by some of the leading international experts in distilling, this course will give you the training you need to operate your distillery efficiently, safely, and profitably.

For more information or to register, go here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Bourbon, Straight" And "Small Barrels" Are Now Available As Nook Books.

I am very happy to announce that my books Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey and Small Barrels Produce Lousy Whiskey are now available for sale in the Barnes & Noble Nook e-book format. Nook books may be read on Nook readers and on most computers, tablets, and smart phones using the available Nook apps.

Go here for Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey for Nook.

Go here for Small Barrels Produce Lousy Whiskey for Nook.

Many thanks go to the whiskey fan and Nook user who hooked me up with a fellow whiskey fan and Barnes & Noble representative who helped make this happen. Once he pointed me to PubIt, the self-publishing utility for Nook, it was easy.

Both books have been available for Amazon's Kindle e-book format for several months. Both companies are independent retailers who control their own prices, so pricing may differ between them but that's them doing that, not me. If you read e-books on some device other than the proprietary readers, you can get them from either source, but Nook books can't be read on Kindles and Kindle books can't be read on Nooks.

Hard (i.e., paper) copies of Bourbon, Straight are also available and can be read by anybody. The link to the right let's you buy it directly from me, but it's also available on Amazon. Maybe we can get Barnes & Noble to carry hard copies too.

While I'm talking about my books, be on the lookout for a new one called The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste. The True Story Of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Distilled In The Spring Of 1974. It will be available on both Kindle and Nook very shortly.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Friend The Titanic Survivor.

Frank and Vickie Goldsmith in 1976.

In 1967, I was a junior in high school and had decided to pursue a career in radio. You had to be at least 16 years old to get a third class radio operators license, a prerequisite for working in a radio station. There was a test. I studied for it and took it as soon as my age allowed. I passed and received a small but very official-looking piece of paper with my name on it, impressive to my young eyes.

The previous year I had joined Junior Achievement, which was supposed to teach kids about business. When I went back in the fall of 1967, I learned that one of the new sponsors was a radio station and the company’s likely ‘product’ would be a radio show, for which we would sell advertising. Since I already had an interest in radio and even had my license, I joined immediately and made no secret of my eagerness to do everything. I became president of the company, announcer on the radio program, and the show’s most successful advertising salesperson.

My most loyal advertising customer was Frank Goldsmith, who ran the camera shop downtown on the square. I was introduced by my grandfather, who used to have a ladder store nearby. They were about the same age and both named Frank. Mr. Goldsmith even looked a little like Grandpa; tall, lean, with sharp features and wispy white hair. His camera shop was pretty typical. Although he sold cameras, his business was mostly film and other supplies. I don’t recall anyone else working there except Mrs. Goldsmith, whose name I now know was Vickie. In the back, Mr. Goldsmith had a peculiar collection of home movie cameras and projectors. My grandfather had a home movie camera that he probably got from Mr. Goldsmith.

Mr. Goldsmith was always nice to me. Buying advertising on a Junior Achievement radio program isn’t really advertising, more like a charitable contribution. I didn’t understand the distinction then, but I appreciated Mr. Goldsmith’s loyalty. I also appreciated the way he treated me, like an adult, a fellow business person, not like a kid. He did it in a matter-of-fact way that was still unusual to me, at age 16.

I valued my relationship with Mr. Goldsmith for another reason. He was a local celebrity, albeit a low key one, a genuine survivor of the Titanic. My mother told me all about it before I ever met Mr. Goldsmith in person. She showed me his name in Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember. Frank Goldsmith was a young boy, eight or nine, migrating from England with his parents. He and his mother survived, his father did not.

I would like to report that Mr. Goldsmith and I developed a close relationship, that we talked for hours as I helped him around the shop, that he shared with me his deepest thoughts and most harrowing memories of that famous event. It wasn’t quite like that, but during the 1967-68 school year I did see him every few weeks and we did hang out, although we talked more about photography than about the Titanic. All he ever said about Titanic was that he was very young and didn’t remember much, except that it was dark, he was wet and cold, and he could hear screams in the distance, like when he lived near Tiger Stadium in Detroit and someone hit a home run.

I probably saw Mr. Goldsmith for the last time in 1969 or 1970. I now know that, in his later years (he was about 64 when I knew him), Frank Goldsmith became closely associated with the Titanic Historical Society in Massachusetts. He became a popular after-dinner speaker, regaling audiences with his tale of a little boy from Kent who lost his father and best friend on that cold night in 1912. When he died in 1982, his ashes were sprinkled over the wreck site in the North Atlantic. His widow gave his papers to a family friend, who crafted them into an autobiography called Echoes In The Night, a True Life Adventure, The Autobiography of Frank Goldsmith, a Third Class Titanic Survivor.

When he died, his unique story punctuated by the unusual disposition of his remains earned him a major piece in The New York Times. They reported that his mother had covered his eyes that night in the rescue boat, presumably to spare him from the sights we all know from James Cameron’s movie, such as the stern of the great ship rising in the air before sinking into the frigid depths, and Leonardo DiCaprio turning blue. They also reported that, according to his widow, he found it difficult to talk about the experience when he started to give speeches, around the time I knew him, but it got easier for him as time went on.

I first wrote about Mr. Goldsmith in 2003 and heard from his grandson. He was irritated at first about the ‘professional survivor’ tag I had applied to his grandfather but as we communicated more, he came to realize I knew his grandfather pretty well and after that he treated me like a family friend. He has a pizza restaurant in Indiana.

When you are young, you really have no idea which experiences are going to stick with you. I imagine there were times when I wished Mr. Goldsmith would just hand me the check and be done with it, but in retrospect I’m glad I got to know him a little, not because he was a Titanic survivor, but because he was a nice and interesting guy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Distinctive Products Agreement Protects American Whiskey In Brazil.

Yesterday, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk and Brazilian Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel signed an agreement to officially recognize each country's native distilled spirits products. The Distilled Spirits Council called it “an historic event that is sure to contribute to further acceleration of trade in distilled spirits between the two countries.”

The signing ceremony, which took place at USTR headquarters, involved an exchange of letters detailing the process by which each country will formally recognize its counterpart's distinctive distilled spirits categories; Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey by Brazil and Cachaça by the U.S.

“This is a historic day for exporters of Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey to Brazil, which is a rapidly growing market for American Whiskeys,” said Distilled Spirits Council President Peter H. Cressy. He noted that U.S. whiskey exports to Brazil shot up 519% from 2001 to 2011, growing from $517,000 to $3.2 million. “Brazilians are rapidly acquiring a taste for the finest American whiskeys, and today’s agreement—when implemented—will ensure the integrity and authenticity of these world class drinks,” Cressy added.

Under the agreement, the United States government will begin its process seeking public comments regarding recognizing Cachaça as a distinctive product of Brazil. Once a final rule is issued by the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), formally recognizing Cachaça, Brazil will then work to complete its regulatory process within a set timeframe to officially recognize Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey as distinctive products of the United States.

“Formal recognition for Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey producers is critical because it will ensure that only those products produced in accordance with strict U.S. standards will be permitted for sale in the Brazilian market. We wish to thank USTR and TTB staff, in particular, for their tireless efforts over the past several years to secure this important agreement,” Cressy concluded.

So if any of you micro-distillers were planning to make domestic Cachaça, too bad. It's about to become illegal.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weller Antique Is Not Being Discontinued.

Several whiskey-enthusiast blogs and web sites are reporting that Weller Antique, a wheated bourbon produced by Sazerac at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, is being discontinued. The ostensible source is none other than Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace Master Distiller, speaking at a tasting event in Dallas, Texas.

Two different individuals who attended the event have written that he cited limited amounts of wheated bourbon barrel stock as the reason. As reported, his exact words were, "Weller Antique is going away."

So your humble correspondent asked the Buffalo Trace PR department about the reported incident. Through them, Mr. Wheatley denied making the statement. Both he and the PR department assert that, in fact, Weller Antique is not going away and there are no changes to the Weller line underway.

The two witnesses are knowledgeable, veteran whiskey enthusiasts. There appears to be no reason to doubt them, nor to doubt the denials by Mr. Wheatley and the official spokespeople at Buffalo Trace. How to explain the discrepancy? Many possibilities suggest themselves. Most fall well short of the conspiracy and duplicity suggested by some members of the commentariat.

One would think that the denial is enough, everyone assumes there was some kind of misunderstanding, now cleared up, end of story. But that's not how it works among people afflicted with whiskirexia nervosa, a condition whose principal symptom is an unreasonable belief that no matter how many bottles of whiskey you already have, there is one more you desperately need. Paranoia is a typical reaction to conflicting stimuli.

One problem with the notion of Weller Antique being discontinued is that there is no reason to do it, nothing to be gained by it. Buffalo Trace only has two lines of wheated bourbon, Weller and Van Winkle. Van Winkle is extremely popular and profitable, but it's also tiny and intends to stay that way. They can make appropriate increases to Van Winkle production without robbing Weller. So why would they discontinue Antique?

One theory is that they are going to push all wheated bourbon production into Weller Special Reserve, which conveniently lost its 7-year-old age statement not long ago. By using younger whiskey and diverting whiskey from Antique, they can produce a lot more Weller Special Reserve, cheaper and thus more profitably. Antique was always just the high-proof version of Special Reserve, after all, 53.5% ABV instead of 45% ABV.

It's not a good theory, necessarily, just one that rationalizes the conclusion.

The Weller line, which also includes Weller Special Reserve and Weller 12, may not be big where you are but it's huge in Texas and everyone knows you don't get between a Texan and his or her bourbon. It's not healthy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Deconsolidation Of Irish Whiskey Continues.

In 1966, all of the whiskey producers on the Emerald Isle became one company and consolidated production at two distilleries, Midleton in the South, and Bushmills in the North.

Both distillery complexes made both malt and grain whiskey using both pot and column stills. Bushmills made Old Bushmills and Midleton made everything else.

It stayed that way for more than 20 years and the company, which came to be known as Irish Distillers Limited (IDL), came to be owned by Pernod Ricard.

Then something amazing happened. The consolidation slowly began to reverse itself. In 1987, Dr. John Teeling founded a new distillery at Cooley in an old government-owned industrial alcohol plant. It too made malt and grain whiskey. It was successful.

In 1994, ownership of the Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey brand was split off from IDL, but it continued to be made at Midleton.

In 2005, Diageo bought the Bushmills Distillery and the Old Bushmills brand from IDL.

In 2007, Cooley built a second (very small) distillery at Kilbeggan.

In 2011, Cooley was acquired by Beam, Inc.

In 2012, William Grant & Sons, owner of the Tullamore Dew brand, announced that it will build soon a new, $46 million distillery in Tullamore to make Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.

When that project is completed, there will be five distillery complexes in Ireland owned by four separate companies. Sadly, none are Irish-owned, but it does show that industry consolidation is not always a one-way street.

And don't feel too sorry for IDL. Its distillery at Midleton is still the biggest in Ireland and its leading brand, Jameson's, is still the number one Irish whiskey in the world. It has recently seen sales grow at a double-digit rate. Who knows, maybe Midleton will need to expand too pretty soon, or IDL will build another distillery someplace else.

American entrepreneurs, take note. You don't even need to start from scratch. The Charles Medley Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, is available. It needs some more work, and mostly new equipment, but the buildings are all sound, including seven warehouses with space for about 140,000 barrels.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What To Buy Now.

For everyone who wishes they had bunkered more Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon before it was all gone, here are a few ideas about what to buy now.

If you like Canadian Whisky, Crown Royal XR will soon be gone, Diageo has announced. Crown XR was created from the last remaining batches of whiskey distilled at Ontario’s Waterloo distillery. It burned down in 1993 and XR contains the whiskey that was saved from the fire.

If you miss out, don't panic. Crown promises it has products in the pipeline that will include other rare whiskeys. They're calling it the Crown Royal Extra Rare Whisky Series.

If your whiskey monger still has any 101° proof Wild Turkey Rye left, buy it. Campari America promises it will come back next year but what they don't say is that it will probably have a new label and a new, higher price when it does. In the meantime, try the new 81° proof Wild Turkey Rye, conveniently priced the same as 101° in most places.

For the last year or so, all Wild Turkey and Russell's Reserve products have been made in a brand spanking new distillery. Whiskey made in the old distillery will be around for several more years, but they aren't making any more of it, so stock up now.

If you are in or anywhere near Virginia, get yourself a bottle of Abraham Bowman Virginia Limited Edition Whiskey. The one you want is the 18-year-old bourbon. It's a limited edition, so you know it won't be around for long, and it is marrrrvelous.

By the way, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is officially reopening on Thursday, April 19. It never actually closed, but hasn't been open to the public for several years. Tours are now offered Monday through Friday at 10 AM and 2 PM, or by appointment. Groups larger than ten should call first. The gift shop is open weekdays from 9 AM to 3:30 PM. They do sell whiskey there.

When producers drop age statements from their labels, they always swear the product is still as old as it used to be but that inevitably changes. So if you see a bottle of Weller Special Reserve that says '7 years in wood,' buy it, because the new ones don't say that.

The current vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel is the 2002, so if you see anything older than that, buy it. The 2002 is perfectly good too, but you'll be able to get all you want of that for at least the rest of this year.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Capital Cellars Welcomes Charles Cowdery; Saturday, April 28, 4 - 6 PM.

Please join me for "American Whiskey 101 with Charles Cowdery" at Capital Cellars, 227 W. Broadway, Frankfort, Kentucky, on Saturday, April 28, from 4 to 6 PM.

This class is an introduction to bourbon and other American whiskeys. You’ll learn what whiskey is, how it compares to other distilled spirits, and how American whiskey compares to other world whiskeys, such as scotch, Canadian, and Irish. Production methods, recipes, tasting techniques, and history are all covered.

Four whiskeys (Class Theme: "All Bourbon, All 100 proof and Above") will be tasted and discussed. The class will be informal and student participation is encouraged.

Cost is $30 ($25 for Cru Club Members).

Contact Rachael Peake, 502-352-2600, for more information.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Upcoming Whiskey Classes In Chicago.

I teach whiskey classes here in Chicago through I Wish Lessons. They are introductory classes, last about a hour, and are very informal. We are, after all, drinking. I encourage student participation and typically hang around afterwards to answer questions and talk whiskey with anyone who wants to stay.

The next one is an Introduction to Single Malt Scotch class this Thursday, April 5, 7 PM, at Fion in Lincoln Park (426 W. Diversey). Fion is an intimate bar right next to the much larger Duffy's. We'll do it there again on Wednesday, May 23, also at 7 PM.

Next Tuesday, April 10, it's Whiskey 101, also at Fion at 7 PM. This is an unusual class because we taste different types of whiskey, in this case Irish, Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye. We'll do it there again on Monday, April 23, Monday, May 14, and Thursday, May 31.

Next Wednesday, April 11, it's back to Fion at 7 PM for an Introduction to Bourbon class. We'll do it there again on Monday, May 21, also at 7 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. (They are much better about answering email quickly than they are about answering the phone.)

The whiskey 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.

Everything is subject to change.

I Wish also does private events, 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 you can contact me directly. (Email is on my profile.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Double Your Pleasure.

It's not a great picture, nor is it a very attractive thing. What is it? Something you rarely see, yet it separates fine bourbon whiskey from mere alcohol.

It is a doubler. Specifically, the doubler at Maker's Mark.

Although not required by law, most bourbon whiskey is double-distilled. The first distillation takes place in a column still. When you visit a distillery in Kentucky and they show you the still, that's what they show you. It looks like a column. They're typically five feet in diameter and two stories high. Every couple of feet there is a porthole-like thing.

That's where the first distillation occurs. When the distillate leaves that still it goes to the one pictured here, the doubler. A doubler is a type of pot still. There are two types of doublers. One is the conventional doubler, the other is the thumper. For a conventional doubler, the distillate is condensed into a liquid before it enters the doubler. For a thumper, it's introduced while still a vapor, and the introduction of hot vapor causes a thumping sound, like when a cold radiator pipe gets hot.

Distillers say the purpose of the doubler is to polish the spirit. It's all about flavor. Certain congeners just can't be gotten at any other way.

As bad as that picture is, most doublers look worse. Most don't have copper on the outside. Most look about the same as any of the other tanks that are everywhere in a distillery.

Back when the American whiskey industry was crashing in the 1970s, many producers joined in a race to the bottom and some stopped doubling to cut costs. Eventually, they all resumed the practice. As the distillers say, you can make alcohol without doubling, no problem, but you can't make fine bourbon whiskey.

We're only talking about the major bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey distilleries here. Micro-distilleries do their own thing and many do not feel double-distillation is necessary.

When I'm in a distillery, and think of it, I usually ask to see the doubler. That's what happened when this picture was taken about two years ago. It's usually in the basement, so there is stair climbing involved. I've never been shown one routinely on a tour.

A few years ago I was at Jack Daniel's and there was a rumor going around that Jack Daniel's doesn't double. I asked the then Master Distiller Jimmy Bedford that question while we were on the tour. He said yes so I asked to see it. I should say 'them.' Jack Daniel's has five column stills, and five doublers.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kimberley Bennett Named Director, Jim Beam Heritage Center.

Jim Beam has named Kimberley Bennett as Director of the Jim Beam Heritage Center, the new visitors' experience at Beam's Clermont, Kentucky, distillery that is slated to open this fall.

Bennett will be responsible for the ramp-up plans, training, and ultimate day-to-day operation of the new facility, a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art visitors’ experience. The Center will offer a complete bourbon experience, from the illustrious seven-generation history of the Beam family, to the art of bourbon-making.

Bennett has spent her career leading hospitality programs for well-known organizations, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown and as Director of Hospitality Programs for The World Equestrian Games.

“The new Jim Beam Heritage Center will showcase our past, present and future,” said Jeff Conder, Vice President, North American Operations, Beam Inc. “With her unique skill set in consumer experiences, hospitality and events, Kim will be the perfect leader for our new Center as she ensures that everyone who visits Jim Beam comes as friends, but leaves as family.”

According to Conder, the new Jim Beam Heritage Center is part of a significant tourism project that will allow the distillery to host more than 200,000 guests a year – more than double the previous number of guests it has been able to accommodate – and be a key stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

In addition to naming Bennett to the Director post, Beam also named long-time employees Linda Hayes, as the Center’s Trade and Hospitality Manager, and Debbie Faust as Still House and Outpost Manager. Hayes, a Beam veteran with more than 30 years at the company, will oversee the overall visitor experiences for special guests. Faust, who started as the Beam Outpost Manager in 2006, will oversee the Center’s retail operation.

”Linda and Debbie are vital members of the distillery experience,” said Conder. “Together with Kim Bennett, they will make a wonderful team.”