Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Content Added to Small Barrels Book, Still Just 99 Cents

This little ebook, created as an experiment almost three years ago, continues to sell and continues to make people angry. They are not entirely wrong.

What I didn't anticipate at the time was that people would take the work as some kind of definitive analysis of the subject and not simply as a report about one very specific experiment.

The original newsletter article upon which the book was based had a longer title. "'Small Barrels Produce Lousy Whiskey,' Says Buffalo Trace." Perhaps I should have left it alone.

As for the ebook itself, it was an experiment to see if it might be worth my time to convert Bourbon, Straight and make it available on Kindle, and perhaps create other original ebook content. It was successful enough and I've been very glad I put my toe in the water with it.

So far it's my only book that's available exclusively as an ebook. The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste started out as an ebook but generated enough interest to justify a small print run.

Wait, didn't the headline say something about new content? Yes it did. I have added a new chapter to the end of Small Barrels that gives the work better balance, although I'm sure there will still be complaints. The new content is an article I wrote for Whisky Advocate in 2013, in which people other than the Buffalo Trace folks speak about the use of small barrels. In particular, I talked to small distillers who have used small barrels successfully.

If you already have the book, I believe Kindle will update it with the new content automatically. It should show up in the table of contents (as Chapter 6), the introduction, and in the text after Chapter 5. If you don't already have the book you can get it here, and it's still just 99¢.

I have not yet updated the Nook version and I don't know when I will. I'm sorry to say that Nook/Barnes & Noble gives me so little business, they're just not worth the trouble.

Monday, September 29, 2014

See Me at Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, Friday, October 10

Are you going to Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo at Montage? Me too! I'll be teaching an American whiskey master class at 6:40 PM. We'll taste and discuss a standard bourbon, wheated bourbon, high rye bourbon, and straight rye, the four primary styles of American whiskey.

It's next Friday, October 10. VIP admission ($150) opens at 5:00 PM, general admission ($80) opens at 6:45 PM. The event runs to 9:00 PM.

No 'rare and exclusive pours' in my class. Just, I hope, some knowledge.

After the class, starting at about 8:00 PM, I'm be on the main exhibition floor selling and signing copies of my new book, Bourbon, Strange, as well as my other two books, Bourbon, Straight and The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. That will go on for about an hour.

Other than that, I'll just be hanging out and sampling the wares. Come say hello.

This is my first time attending, but I hear it's a great event. I'm looking forward to it. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Enough of 5.36(d) for Now. Everybody, Meet Section 5.40

Here we are again, with our nose in the book. The Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, that is, the labeling rule book for the U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Today we're looking at Section 5.40, Age and Percentages. Since people seem to prefer TTB's Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM), it's there in Chapter 8.

Before we started to write about Section 5.36(d), we contacted Tom Hogue. He is TTB's Director of Congressional and Public Affairs. We asked if our interpretation of 5.36(d) was correct and he said yes. We did the same thing with 5.40, which requires an age statement for any whiskey that is less than four years old. In recent years, TTB has allowed statements that read simply, “aged less than 4 years,” or something similar, instead of an actual age statement. We asked about that too.

Here is Mr. Hogue's reply:

"Age statements are required for all domestic or foreign whiskies, including blends, that are less than four years old.  For whiskies over four years old, the age statement is optional. TTB is not approving labels with 'aged less than' statements where an age statement is required."

Here is an example of a label in violation of 5.40:

It's obvious why this sucks. Is it three years, eleven months old? Or one week old? It effectively says, "we're not old enough for no age statement, so we're giving you a fake age statement."

If they're going to violate 5.40, they need not have bothered with the fake. Many micro-distillery products simply omit the age statement altogether, even though one sip tells you the whiskey is not more than four years old. Again, since TTB assumes compliance, a label submitted without an age statement on it is, for legal purposes, an affirmative statement that the whiskey inside is at least four years old. If it's not, you've committed perjury.

Oh yes, you have.

When they get caught with labeling violations, producers always insist they weren't trying to deceive anyone but why else leave off or fudge the required age statement? The rule is simplicity itself. If any whiskey in the mix is less than four years old, the age of the youngest whiskey must be disclosed on the label. There is no ambiguity and there are no exceptions. "It only applies to straight whiskey." Wrong. "It only applies to bourbon." Wrong. "It doesn't apply to blends." Wrong. "It doesn't apply to imports." Wrong.

Have TTB examiners given producers incorrect information about 5.40? There is evidence that they have. That's why we got an official statement from TTB. No excuses now.

TTB even tells you what form to use: "___ years old" or "aged ___ years" are the only options.

So is it not obvious that a person trying to sell you nine-month-old whiskey for $60 a bottle would rather you not know it's only nine-months-old?

If you think a lot of producers have been violating 5.36(d), there are too many to count breaking 5.40. Good luck finding one that is in compliance, and yet they do exist. Here's an example:

This matters because, as consumers, we have a right to know what we're buying, and this particular bit of information -- the true age of a whiskey that is less than four years old -- is required by law. Among other benefits, it levels the playing field, allowing one-year-old whiskeys to compete against other one-year-old whiskeys. Anyone who isn't proud enough of their effort to tell the truth about it probably does not deserve your patronage. The question looms, after all; if they're lying about this, what else are they lying about?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beam Releases Historic, Enhanced Photographs

We've talked a lot here recently about what's real and what's not. The picture above is both.

Beam is celebrating Jim Beam's sesquicentennial right now (i.e., his 150th birthday was September 18th). This is a rare photograph of the distillery at Clermont under construction, presumably in 1934 or thereabouts. The smokestack on the right tells me that building houses the boiler. The cupola on the building to the left tells me that's the stillhouse. With that and the old vehicles and construction debris in the foreground, it's a great image.

Only it's not the real photograph. This is.

As part of Jim Beam's birthday celebration, the company has had some of its historic photographs digitally enhanced. Mostly that means colorizing but this one was also straightened.

Jim Beam says it is the first consumer brand to partner with Dynamichrome, a UK-based service that specializes in high fidelity color restoration in culture, history and entertainment. Dynamichrome has previously worked with the Imperial War Museum's World War I extension and the Indian Motorcycle Company to digitally reconstruct and colorize black and white photographs.

I have no real problem with this. The images are great, you just have to remember they're not real. In this photograph the colors are almost certainly correct, but in some of the others showing people, the color of their clothing is largely a guess. To go way philosophical on you, no photograph is real. It's a creation, an artifice, i.e., art, because someone decided what to shoot, how to shoot it, and when to shoot it.

Then again, there is another whole school that says photography isn't art because it merely mimics life. As proof, they point out that a camera can be programmed to take a photograph by itself, with no human intervention. 

With these Beam photographs -- seven were released this week -- the subjects are historical. We want the pictures to be as accurate as possible because we want to learn from them. Does it matter if Jim Beam's suit is gray or brown? Probably not. When you consider what's possible today with photo manipulation software, it's a wonder we believe anything is real.

So, really and truly, I'm glad they did this to the pictures. I'm enjoying them and I really don't think they're leading us to ruin.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Hampshire, the Control State People Like

Lately, much attention has been paid to the U. S. Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the principal federal regulator of alcoholic beverages. TTB is important, but alcohol regulation is mostly a state enterprise. The 21st Amendment created a limited exception to the Constitution's Commerce Clause. The fifty states have much more freedom to regulate alcoholic beverages than they do any other consumer products.

At the most fundamental level, the fifty are divided into license states (33) and control states (17). Washington recently changed teams. Pennsylvania may follow. Whenever a state talks about changing, it is from control to license, never the other way around.

In control states, state government directly controls some aspect of the industry, usually by functioning as the sole distributor for alcohol products. Each state is a little bit different. In some states, the government operates all of the retail outlets too. Often they set prices. There is no competition.

Control state residents frequently complain about high prices, limited selection, insufficient and inconvenient outlets, extremely limited hours, and indifferent service. In every control state, that is, except New Hampshire.

Admittedly, the sample size for this survey is extremely small, but it came up several times when I was there last weekend. Folks in New Hampshire seem to like their state system. What's more, they're proud of it. They brag about how they have stores on the interstates and in the Manchester airport. Prices are low because they don't charge sales tax and they have good sales. They don't necessarily carry everything but special orders are easy. If enough people ask for something, it goes into regular stock. They actually listen and respond to their customers.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission operates under the name New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stores. It positions itself like a big, liquor store chain, not a government agency. Some stores are designated as Specialty Wine Stores, Expanded Wine Selection Stores or Specialty Spirits Stores. This statement is from their website:

"Over the years, New Hampshire residents and those from surrounding states for miles around have chosen to shop for their wine and spirits at our conveniently located New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stores. This has not happened by accident, but by design, as the State Liquor Commission aggressively pursues a strategy that provides you with the best possible value and the most pleasant shopping experience."

Because New Hampshire is such a small state, its residents are very aware of how things are done on the other side of their borders, including the international one. Their system seems to work well for consumers and for the state's legitimate interests in diminishing alcohol abuse.

Nice place, New Hampshire.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NAS Jim Beam Black Label Should Be Okay

This is not the sort of thing producers announce but Beam Suntory has confirmed rumors that Jim Beam Black Label -- which the company has long touted as 'double-aged' because it is 8-years-old compared to white label's 4 -- will soon be NAS (no age statement). No word on exactly when the change will occur but the NAS product is probably in the pipeline now.

The website appears to be in transition. The copy reveals the new positioning even though the bottle cut still shows the age statement. No doubt that's deliberate. Beam leaves nothing to chance.

Obviously, a producer doesn't drop an age statement without intending to use whiskey that is younger than the abandoned age but what will this change really mean in the case of Jim Beam Black, which has long been the best value in the Beam lineup; a rich, flavorful, mature whiskey for a very good price?

The nature of Beam's production factors into this.

Beam has two big distilleries at Clermont and Boston. They make all of their whiskeys there except Maker's Mark. Boston (Booker Noe) pretty much makes white label exclusively while Clermont makes everything else, but white label is the biggest part of its production too. White label is so huge compared to everything else that for 50 minutes of every hour, that's what they make.

This is where the difference between age and maturity comes into play.

Although a little bit of older whiskey gets into white label batches to match the flavor profile, it is basically 4-years-old and a day. The flavored stuff and Devil's Cut comes out of that pool too. What's left? Old Crow is younger liquid that's also less mature. Although Booker's and Baker's are age-stated, they are very low volume. Knob, at 9-years, is much larger. That gives Beam a lot of whiskey to play with between 4 and 9 years old.

We all know some barrels mature faster than others, based on their warehouse location. These, presumably, are the barrels they'll use for black label. That's where NAS works. They can keep the flavor profile close (which is their top priority) by selecting these younger but more mature barrels. That way, they're putting that extra maturity to good use. Dropping the age statement won't hurt sales if they are successful at maintaining the flavor profile. Regular buyers of black label may not even notice the label change, but they'll definitely notice a flavor change if there is one. Avoiding that is the goal. Maintaining the flavor profile is more important than the age statement.

With the immense volume of whiskey Beam produces, they should be able to keep the black label as the rich and flavorful product it is now, and keep it a good value too. If they're successful, NAS won't be such a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Distilld Whiskey Scanner Has Been Chosen as Official App of WOW

Distilld is a free whiskey app for Android and iOS users that delivers an easy way to track and discover new whiskies.

Today, Distilld Communities LLC announced that its whiskey check-in and discovery app, Distilld Whiskey Scanner, has been named the Official App of Whiskies of the World (WOW). It is the first whiskey app to be used for the four WOW Expos on Saturday, Sept. 27 in Austin, Texas; Nov. 8 in Atlanta, Georgia; March 26, 2015 in San Jose, CA; and March 28, 2015 in San Francisco, CA.

Ticket holders can enter the event code they receive from WOW to begin using the Distilld Whiskey Scanner event module, which lets attendees track whiskies they have tried, rate them, and share reviews and personal tasting notes. It will help them find booth locations and upload photos with check-ins to social media. The app contains an interactive map of the booth locations and a full event schedule. Users will receive real-time alerts for sessions and presentations. The app also provides a filtered event pour list of whiskies available at the show, enabling visitors to easily find and rate their favorite samples.

Users need not worry that their reviews, check-ins, and notes will be lost if their Internet connection is limited, slow or unavailable during the event. A feature exclusive to Distilld is that the app remains fully functional even when offline and will sync up as soon as the device reconnects.

“Nothing is more frustrating than tasting an amazing whiskey at an event only to draw a blank on the name when trying to remember it later. You could walk around with a notebook and pen, but your hands are probably full and who wants to carry more stuff? What’s worse is if you misplace the pen and paper and your notes are lost after the show.” said Stu Grubbs, Distilld’s Founder. “Our goal is to use technology to enhance the tasting experience. By using our app, visitors now have an easy way to keep track of their experience, explore the event, and discover whiskey. We are proud to be a partner and the official app for Whiskies of the World Expo.”

I had drinks with Stu Grubbs and other folks from Distilld a few weeks ago. They're a small start-up here in my neighborhood in Chicago, and genuinely passionate about whiskey. Distilld isn't just an app to use at events such as WOW. You can use it every day in bars and shops. Whenever you see an interesting whiskey, just use the app to shoot an image of the label with your phone's camera and watch the fun ensue.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Did a Product With Four Simple Ingredients Get So Strange?

A well-funded attempt to degrade bourbon winds up protecting it. A wealthy United States Treasury Secretary gives himself a valuable franchise and no one objects. A rye whiskey empire spawns a renowned robber baron. The biggest company in the business shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly. An American whiskey type is named after the king of France and no one knows why. Members of two reviled immigrant minorities save the bourbon industry. Mushrooms improve bourbon’s taste.

Those are just a few of the surprising, true stories in Bourbon, Strange; the long-awaited sequel to Bourbon, Straight, the book that helped propel bourbon whiskey’s current robust revival.

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in Chapter 8, "George Dickel and the Trouble With Diageo." Unlike Athena, Diageo did not emerge fully-formed from the head of Zeus when it debuted in 1997. It was the sum of its parts, most prominently Guinness but also the American drinks giant Schenley. The George Dickel brand allows for an interesting case study in how bad corporate decisions can drive a good whiskey into the ground. Dickel is often mentioned in the same breath with Jack Daniel's, a laughable comparison since Jack outsells George 100 to one.

I am able to write frankly about Diageo, the world's largest drinks company, and all of the other producers because they don't provide a penny of my income. I work for you, the whiskey consumer. You pay me by buying my books and other products, and by buying tickets and showing up when I appear somewhere. I try my best to make it fun for you and me, which sometimes means making producers large and small uncomfortable. They want your money too and it's up to all of us to make sure they earn it fair and square.

There are several ways to get the new book, Bourbon, Strange. They're all explained here. If you would like to buy any of my other books, go here. To subscribe to my newsletter, The Bourbon Country Reader, go here. Those purchases are all processed by PayPal but fulfilled by me. Small business doesn't get any smaller. Everything is printed in the United States. Buy American!

Although I write the books, I consider their creation a collaboration. I get many of my ideas from my interaction with other bourbonians, in person and in social media. I couldn't do this without you. So thanks, but you still have to pay for the book.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flavoring Is Legal in American Whiskey. Yes, You Read That Correctly

When people say the Federal regulations for labeling distilled spirits are confusing and complicated, they aren't wrong. It is in the nature of laws that at times they can be hard to figure out. That's why there are lawyers and law schools.

I have always believed that the only difference between bourbon whiskey and straight bourbon whiskey is aging. (All of this applies to rye whiskey and all of the other named types too.) 'Bourbon whiskey' must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, but the rules don't say for how long. After the whiskey has been in the barrel for two years, it is entitled to be called 'straight.' If you just read Section 5.22(b)(1)(i) and (iii), you would think that's the only difference, but it's not.

If you jump ahead to Section 5.23(a)(2), you will find that "there may be added to any class or type of distilled spirits, without changing the class or type thereof, (i) such harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials as are an essential component part of the particular class or type of distilled spirits to which added, and (ii) harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials (HCFBM) such as caramel, straight malt or straight rye malt whiskies, fruit juices, sugar, infusion of oak chips when approved by the Director, or wine, which are not an essential component part of the particular distilled spirits to which added, but which are customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage, if such coloring, flavoring, or blending materials do not total more than 2 ½ percent by volume of the finished product."

In theory, then, such coloring and flavoring as described above which is not permitted in straight bourbon whiskey or straight rye, etc. is permitted in products just labeled 'bourbon whiskey' or 'rye whiskey,' without the 'straight.'

This came up because Templeton Rye has revealed to Mark Gillespie that their product, labeled as rye whiskey, contains flavoring pursuant to Section 5.23(a)(2). This is done, they say, to make the taste of their MGP-distilled rye more like the original Prohibition-era drink upon which their product is based.

Templeton's Scott Bush and Keith Kerkhoff gave Gillespie a wide-ranging interview on his WhiskyCast program last week. If you are interested in this subject it is worth a listen to hear their side of the story we wrote about two weeks ago here. The interview begins at 18:30 and runs about 20 minutes.

Just to be crystal clear, nothing can be added to straight bourbon or straight rye without changing the class. That is why Jim Beam's Red Stag, for example, is classified as 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused with Natural Flavors.' It's not straight bourbon, it's straight bourbon 'with,' which is a different classification.

Just because a whiskey is classified as 'bourbon whiskey,' without the 'straight,' that doesn't mean it does contain flavoring or coloring, just that it may under 5.23(a)(2), except for one thing. In the case only of bourbon, but not rye and the others, TTB does not recognize any use of HCFBM as being 'customarily employed in accordance with established trade usage.' Therefore, no additives in bourbon or straight bourbon are permitted unless TTB changes its mind about what's customary.

(Note: the paragraph above was edited on February 21, 2015 to reflect a statement received from TTB that can be found in the comments below. What took so long? It didn't seem warranted at first, but then it did.)

Another obscure rule says mixtures of straight bourbon are considered straight bourbon, but only if all of the components were distilled in the same state. Mixtures of bourbon made in different states must be labeled 'bourbon whiskey' and not 'straight bourbon whiskey,' even if all of the components are straights. Since age statements are required if the whiskey is less than four years old, you shouldn't need the word 'straight' to determine the product's age. Unfortunately, that's another rule currently experiencing lax enforcement.

Although the rules tell you what you must disclose, you can always disclose more voluntarily. Consumers who are really into whiskey want to know every true fact you are willing to reveal, so why not reveal all of them?

For most of modern history, none of this was an issue. Most American whiskey producers made the same things; straight bourbon, straight rye, corn whiskey, blended whiskey, and that was about it. The rules for many other types of whiskey existed but were rarely used. Today, micro-distillers especially but also the big producers are making all sorts of things, sometimes governed by different rules.

It's hard to keep up, but it's fun to learn new things.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Deep In the Heart of ... Not Texas

This should be easy, right? It says 'Texas Made' on the front label. And 'Texas' is part of the name, isn't it? Plus, who would be crazy enough to claim something is made in Texas when it's not? Texas pride doesn't take that sort of thing lightly. I mean, 1835 is the year Texas began its struggle for independence from Mexico. What kind of person would debase that hallowed year by using it to sell Potemkin whiskey? In Texas? What sort of low-down varmint would do such a thing?

And yet, read what Lauren Drewes Daniels wrote in the Dallas Observer last November.

"Take the whiskey called 1835, which is bottled by North Texas Distillers in Lewisville. The name is a salute to the year settlers in Gonzales stood their ground against Mexican troops in what is historically considered the start of the Texas Revolution. The label also reads, 'Come and take it,' on both the back and front, along with a picture of the iconic cannon that was the seed of the conflict. The words "Texas Made" are printed front and center on the label.

"It's unlikely that a single speck of Texas, much less the battle of 1835, is actually in any of those bottles. Stretching the term 'Made in Texas,' the drink is a blend of whiskeys, most or all of them likely from Kentucky, and is only bottled in Texas. The highly astute label reader or whiskey aficionado would be able to discern this, but the average consumer might not. Despite all the Texas banter, the label lacks one key word that is all-telling: 'distilled.'"

In this case, the telltale word 'distilled' tells its tale by its absence. Instead, the label says "Bottled by 1835 in Lewisville, Texas." That's a dead giveaway.

As the TTB uses 'made,' you 'made' something even if you just bottled it, so nothing on the label is illegal except its lack of a 5.36(d) disclosure. But that's not how Bunny and Hoss use the word 'made' out at their ranch. You 'make' something when you actually make it. You don't make whiskey by putting whiskey somebody else made into a bottle.

At least they don't claim they're cutting it with Trinity River water.

Do all those proud Texans who have purchased this bourbon at Specs for about $27 a 750 ml bottle know that it was not distilled in Texas? Probably not. Would they care? What do you think?

A lot is missing from the label, like a company name. There is no company called '1835.' And where is the website URL? Who doesn't have a web site? Even North Texas Distillers only has a placeholder site, with no content. Yet even that tells you a little something. Under the name it says, "A Texas Bottling and Spirits Company."

Not "Distillery."

"But wait," say you. "'Distillers' is part of the name."

Yes it is, Grasshopper. Shall we go through the list of all the other Potemkins that have 'distiller' or 'distillery' in their name?

Texas 1835 Bourbon Whiskey has been on the market for about two years and appears to be successful. They are moving a lot of it. Yet as one observer noted, "They aren't pumping all that volume out of some little pot still in Lewisville and charging $27 a bottle for it." The micro-distillery whiskeys actually made in Texas are in the $50 to $80 range, so that price point is another dead giveaway. This is sourced whiskey, sourced from Kentucky, Tennessee, or Indiana more likely than not.

There might be another rule violation, as you see no age statement on the label. That is supposed to mean four-years-old minimum, yet the product is just 'bourbon whiskey,' not 'straight.' Why not? 'Straight,' if a product qualifies for it, is an optional word, but most producers like to use it if they can. If they can't it is usually because either it's not two-years-old or not all from the same state.

Or they just neglected to put an age statement on a label that needed one.

But that's not what Texans care about, I reckon. They don't much care what some government regulators in Washington think either. They care about Texas grains, Texas yeast, and Texas water. They care about Texas-distilled whiskey maturing in the Texas heat. They care about Texas jobs. And they don't buy whiskey that says "Made in Texas' when it's not.

Just like they don't buy salsa made in New York City.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Mystery at 9,600 Feet

What is in a bottle of Breckenridge Bourbon? Some say every drop is distilled and aged at the World's Highest Distillery in that ski resort town. Others say it is young bourbon from a Kentucky distillery, or maybe Indiana. Still others say it is both, some locally distilled liquid mixed with liquid made elsewhere.

But wait, here is a written statement attributed to Breckenridge owner Bryan Nolt in 2013. "Due to demand we function at max capacity but over deplete our Bourbon barrel inventory at times. When that happens we contract time at other distilleries to produce the identical mash bill, fermentation, and distillation process. And while I'd say there's a lot of KY tradition in our Bourbon, we've never made, bought, or contracted any Bourbon in or from KY."

Huh? That doesn't make sense. If he said that, what was he trying to say? Or was it deliberate doubletalk? The problem is you can't suddenly make bourbon when you don't have enough of your own to meet demand. That new bourbon still has to age. So unless you're contracting via time machine, that statement doesn't make sense.

He does say unequivocally that not a drop of Breckenridge Bourbon was made in Kentucky. That leaves Indiana unless the contractor was another micro-distillery. Micros don't often do contract, but some now have enough capacity (usually due to the addition of a column still) that they can, and a few have.

Maybe the contract distiller is another one in Colorado. If Breckenridge is getting its 'extra' whiskey from another Colorado distiller, there is no 5.36(d) problem.

But we just don't know. It's a mystery.

People have asked, but the answers are all over the map, even from seemingly official sources. One person says it's all local. Another says it used to be all sourced but now they're mixing in local-make, increasing the percentage as capacity allows, on the way to transitioning to all local-make. Still another person says their sales are growing so fast they'll never be able to make it all themselves.

That's not the only mystery. How old is Breckenridge Bourbon? Nobody seems to think it is more than two or three years old. It doesn't have an age statement on the label and it is supposed to have an age statement if it is less than four years old. So does that mean it is more than four years old? It would be nice to know.

The evidence against Breckenridge is circumstantial but here it is. The label does not say 'distilled by Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge, Colorado.' It says 'produced and bottled by Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge, Colorado.' 'Produced' is not a synonym for 'distilled.' You can use 'produced by' even if all you did was bottle it. The wording 'produced and bottled by' is often used by artful dodgers to make it look like they did more than they did. It's used because many consumers think words like 'made' and 'produced' mean the same thing as 'distilled,' but they don't.

Legally, the producer is the company that puts the product into distribution by selling it to a distributor. They don't really have to 'do' much of anything to legally say they 'produced' or 'made' the product.

The web site says the mash bill for Breckenridge Bourbon is 56 percent corn, 38 percent rye, and 6 percent barley. Since that is no one's standard mashbill, that is a point in favor of Breckenridge.

The label featured on the web site says "Special Release." Do they all say that? Is there a 'regular' release?

It costs $50 a bottle here in Chicago.

Much has been made about Caskers declaring Breckenridge Bourbon 'better than Pappy' when they did no such thing, they merely reported that Breckenridge scored one point higher than Pappy 23 at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge (USC) in New York City. If anybody declared Breckenridge Bourbon 'better than Pappy' it was the USC judges, not Caskers.

If you knew anything about the way those competitions are run, you wouldn't be impressed.

Based on all the evidence, the consensus seems to be that it is a young bourbon, some of which was made there, some elsewhere, that was cut from barrel proof (about 65% ABV) to bottling proof (43% ABV) with that precious Rocky Mountain snowmelt water. The water routine we've heard before from Tin Cup and Widow Jane.

What does Breckenridge Distillery owner Bryan Nolt say about all this? I've asked. He hasn't answered.

You can usually figure these things out but Breckenridge is a tough nut to crack. Ultimately all of this detective work is a pain in the ass. They should just tell us, damn it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

We Pause to Collect Our Thoughts About 5.36(d) and Potemkin Distilleries

It has been an interesting two weeks, and an interesting seven years.

I coined the term 'Potemkin Distillery' in January of 2008 to describe a producer that does everything it can to convince you it distilled something when it didn't. This blog goes back to 2007 and it's searchable, so you can follow the progression if you wish.

Templeton Rye started it, so maybe it's nine years, since they began in 2005. I first tasted Templeton at WhiskeyFest. My first words were, "that's good, but it's six years old at least. They didn't make this." That began the quest to figure out who did. At the time, the former Seagram's distillery in Indiana wasn't on anyone's radar because only a few people knew the new owner, Pernod, was selling bulk whiskey, something Seagram's never did. Templeton kept the source a secret as long as it could.

Two weeks ago the owner of Templeton Rye, Vern Underwood, admitted that the whole Templeton Rye story has been a lie from the beginning. They don't make it in Templeton, Iowa, and it isn't made from a secret, Prohibition-era family recipe.

Templeton Rye also has never followed TTB Rule 5.36(d), which requires that the state of distillation be disclosed on the label if it is not the same state as the address on the label. Templeton's label is required to say 'distilled in Indiana,' but it doesn't.

When asked about that by the Des Moines Register, Underwood said the label had received approval without qualms from the TTB. The motivation for the label change came purely from a desire to address confusion, not after inquiries from the TTB, he said. That's a poor excuse. You'll see why in a minute.

On Tuesday, September 2, Tin Cup was in the spotlight, as that seemingly Colorado-made whiskey is also a proud product of Indiana and the company behind it is Proximo, which is not exactly your neighborhood craft distiller. Proximo is based in New Jersey. Its portfolio includes Stranahan's, which is made in Colorado. It also includes Jose Cuervo Tequila, a mega-brand.

Tin Cup's face is Jess Graber, who made whiskey once. He is now a brand ambassador, like Tom Bulleit.

The point once again is that every effort is made to convince the consumer that Tin Cup is a Colorado product when it is not. Tin Cup's label also does not obey 5.36(d).

On Wednesday, it was Widow Jane's turn. We got another bite at that New York apple on Friday. Between Wednesday and Friday I communicated with someone at Widow Jane who wrote, among other things, "It does not make sense to me that they [TTB] approve labels that lack information they claim to require."

Well, here's the thing, Jane. Every single person who has submitted a COLA to the TTB has signed the following declaration:

"Under the penalties of perjury, I declare: that all the statements appearing on this application are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief; and, that the representations on the labels attached to this form, including supplemental documents, truly and correctly represent the content of the containers to which these labels will be applied. I also certify that I have read, understood and complied with the conditions and instructions which are attached to an original TTB F 5100.31. Certificate/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval."

In other words, as a DSP license holder, you are expected to be familiar with the law and to follow the law in every particular. You or your agent signed a declaration (above) to that effect when you submitted your Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). You are supposed to be motivated by the fact that your license can be revoked if you screw up too much, which will put you out of business.

If you had a lawyer prepare your COLA, and that lawyer knew your state of distillation and your label address didn't match, and he or she didn't tell you about rule 5.36(d), that lawyer has some explaining to do. This is not legal advice, of course, just a little general information for the education and edification of the public.

Mixed in there over the last two weeks was an announcement about a new ethics code proposed by the American Craft Spirits Association but not yet adopted by its members (which include Widow Jane), and an announcement that virtually every trade association in the alcoholic beverage industry is urging Congress to fix TTB right now by giving it enough money to do its job.

I have no illusions that our little grassroots 5.36(d) movement influenced the united front on TTB funding, or anything else, but it was an interesting convergence of events nonetheless.

Finally, if you don't care about this issue, why on earth did you read this far? The easiest thing in the world is to not know something. Drink what you like, pay what they ask, believe their story or don't. The drinking helps with the not caring and not knowing. If you don't care then I didn't write this for you. I wrote it for the people who do.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Come See Me in Hancock, New Hampshire on Saturday, September 20

If you will be anywhere near Hancock, New Hampshire, next Saturday, September 20, you should come see me at the Hancock Inn. It's a lovely place, the oldest inn in New Hampshire. We'll taste some bourbon and have some dinner. It will be fun. You should come. Details are here.

On Friday, October 10, I'll be teaching a master class at Indy's Whiskey & Fine Spirits Expo, sponsored by Vine & Table. I'll post more details on that as they become available.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Celebrates Its Whiskey Heritage November 7 - 8

From 1803 until the present day, the City of Lawrenceburg, Indiana has been home to many distilleries, thus earning it the name 'Whiskey City.'

The one distillery that remains in operation, the former Seagram's plant now known as MGP of Indiana, has been in the news recently because many non-distiller producers (NDPs) are using whiskey made there to establish fake microdistilleries. It's a reprehensible practice, which we try to expose, but MGP is blameless as they can't control what happens to the whiskey they make once it's sold. In fact, MGP is a fine company and Lawrenceburg is justifiably proud of its 211 years of whiskey history.

In addition to MGP, Proximo Spirits operates a distilled spirits bottling plant in Lawrenceburg. That facility also used to be part of Seagram's. The other major post-Prohibition distillery in Lawrenceburg was Old Quaker, owned by Schenley, which during Prohibition was owned by the notorious bootlegger, George Remus.

To celebrate it whiskey heritage, the City of Lawrenceburg, Lawrenceburg Main Street, MGP, Hollywood Casino, and the Dearborn County Visitor Center have come together to create the inaugural 'Whiskey City Festival,' to be held on Friday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 8, at the new Lawrenceburg Event Center. Each day will feature whiskey tastings, industry experts, food, beer, cigars, music (including nationally recognized entertainment), as well as historic displays featuring the local story of the industry and its workers.

The Lawrenceburg Event Center, at 91 Walnut Street, is part of the complex that includes the Hollywood Casino and the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.

To prepare the historic displays, the organizing committee is asking current, former and retired employees of the local distilleries and bottling plants, both past and present, to share their stories and experiences of working in the industry. "Your stories are an important component in documenting and displaying on a personal level just how significantly this industry impacted our community and the people who worked within it," said Pat Krider, Lawrenceburg Main Street Director.

"If you're worried that your writing skills aren't up to par, please don’t worry, we can help with that," said Krider. "What really matters here is the story and the personal experience.”

A selection committee will review the submitted stories and the best five will be featured in The Dearborn County Register, one each week, in the weeks leading up to the Whiskey City Festival. In addition, a 'memory wall' will be featured at the event, displaying the selected stories. Winning entrants will be entered into a drawing for tickets to some of the events that will be part of the celebration.

Submit stories to the Whiskey City Festival Committee, c/o Lawrenceburg Main Street, 118 Walnut Street, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025.  For more information call 812-537-4507 or email info@thinklawrenceburg.com.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alcoholic Beverage Industry Unites to Urge Full Funding of TTB

The alcoholic beverage industry in the United States is highly regulated. The national regulator is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the Treasury Department, which is known by the acronym 'TTB.'

The alcohol part of TTB has several responsibilities. It collects the Federal Excise Tax (FET), issues licenses to distilled spirits producers, and ensures accurate labeling of alcoholic beverages through its Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) process. Due to industry growth, especially in the micro-distillery segment, TTB has fallen down on that third part of its mission. In this space we have focused on one particular problem area, Rule 5.36(d) enforcement, which concerns state of distillation disclosure.

Recognizing that TTB is broken, the major trade organizations representing all three tiers of the beer, wine, and spirits industry (producers, wholesalers, and retailers) have formed a coalition to urge Congress to pass the full $101 million requested by the administration to fund the TTB.

In a letter sent to appropriations committee chairmen in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, the coalition praised the successful working relationship between the beverage alcohol industry and its primary federal regulator.

In addition, the industry groups pointed out that TTB is the federal government’s third-biggest revenue generating agency behind the Internal Revenue Service, and Customs and Border Protection. It also noted that TTB officials review well over 100,000 labels and thousands of product formulas each year, as well as completing all license review and background checks.

"[TTB’s] ability to respond swiftly and properly to changes in the alcohol industry has a direct impact on jobs, consumer protection, the innovation of new products, and the collection of federal excise taxes,” the letter said. It noted that TTB’s workforce had been cut by more than 50 full-time staff members at a time when the number of companies and products in the sector has increased by more than 53 percent.

“We need a well-funded TTB to be able to process label requests quickly in order to get new products to market in this highly competitive global marketplace. We also need a well-funded TTB to prevent and guard against unscrupulous actors from entering our marketplace who otherwise could harm the public with dangerous products, which has occurred outside of the United States with counterfeit alcohol,” the letter stated.

Hal Rogers, who represents Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District, is Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Organizations that signed the letter include: American Beverage Licensees, The Beer Institute, Brewers Association, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, National Association of Beverage Importers, Inc., National Beer Wholesalers Association, The Presidents’ Forum of the Distilled Spirits Industry, Wine America, Wine Institute, and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The letter itself is here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Eating in Ohio

I’m going to give the fake distilleries a break today and write about something completely different. Food. Specifically, Ohio food.

I am a born and bred Buckeye. I haven't lived there full time since 1978 but I get back often, mostly to see family. Although I'm from Mansfield, in North Central Ohio, I've lived in Dayton, Columbus, and Oxford (near Cincinnati). My family's roots are in Cleveland (mom) and the southeastern corner of the state around Coolville (dad).

This is my personal perspective, not the result of objective research, so to other Buckeyes I may put too much emphasis on some things and miss others altogether.

We people of Ohio have named ourselves, and our most popular professional sports organization, after a tree whose nuts are poisonous to humans. Consequently, Ohio's favorite candy resembles that poisonous nut.

Throughout Ohio there are unique dishes, typically with an ethnic root, that are very popular there and virtually unknown elsewhere. Cincinnati Chili is the best example. A meat sauce of Greek origin, it is not hot and contains ingredients such as cinnamon and chocolate. The ground beef isn't browned first so it has an unusual texture. It is served over spaghetti or on hot dogs, typically finished with a huge mound of cheddar cheese. Beans are available on the side.

There are several restaurant chains that specialize in Cincinnati Chili. Empress, the original, is a shadow of its former self but Skyline and Gold Star seem to be thriving, and there are several other, newer chains. It's on the menu at many other restaurants and people make it at home. It is popular within about a 100 mile radius of Cincinnati and nowhere else.

Johnny Marzetti is a dish that originated in a long-gone Columbus restaurant called Marzetti’s. The chef and founder was Teresa Marzetti. The widely-sold salad dressings of the same name also originated there. Johnny Marzetti is a casserole of onions, mushrooms, ground beef, cheddar cheese, tomato sauce, and macaroni. My mom made it, the school cafeteria served it, and some restaurants in the state still do. It was so ubiquitous when I was growing up, I thought it was universal. I just made a batch a couple days ago.

Ohio had huge immigration from Germany, Poland, and Italy. Around me it was mostly Germans and Poles. A lot of people still eat those foods. Bucyrus has an annual bratwurst festival. To me as a kid, stuffed peppers were as common as hamburgers. Lots of those immigrants were Catholic so Friday fish fries were a big deal, just like in Wisconsin, except in Ohio (at least in Northern Ohio), the fish is usually Lake Erie perch. It wasn't available for many years when the pollution was so bad, but it is now. It is my favorite fresh water fish.

Celebrity Chef Michael Symon is arguably the second most famous chef from Cleveland. The most famous is still Chef Boyardee (originally Boiardi). Like Teresa Marzetti in Columbus, he specialized in simple red sauce Italian. She put her salad dressing in jars to take home, he did the same thing with his red sauce.

People from all over Ohio and Indiana drive to Lebanon (near Dayton) to eat at the Golden Lamb, Ohio’s oldest inn (1803). They serve a popular steak salad, fried saurkraut balls are an appetizer, and braised beef short ribs are on the ‘light bites’ menu. Their specialties are Amish fried chicken, free-range roast turkey, and braised Pennsylvania lamb shank.

One of the few times my family ever ate out for Thanksgiving was at the Golden Lamb. My brother and I were both living in the area so my parents and sisters came to us. It was marvelous.

Two foods from my hometown of Mansfield that I still enjoy are Jones Potato Chips and Leaning Tower subs. The Jones family has been making potato chips at the bottom of the Bowman Street Hill since 1945. It's a wavy-style chip, they call it 'marcelled.' Great for dipping, great by themselves. You do not want to be the Frito-Lay salesman in Mansfield.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza has been a Mansfield institution since the fifties. It has always been at the same location, in the basement of a building that is now otherwise empty. It is carry-out only but during my high school years we usually just ate in the parking lot. At first it was considered a beatnik place, then a hippie place, and it is still pretty bohemian. The pizza is good but for me it's the subs, a large Italian loaf filled with salami, bologna, mozzarella, provolone, and pizza sauce. That's the standard model but there are options. I usually add pepperoni. They're wrapped in foil and baked in the same oven as the pizza.

Bologna? Yes, bologna. We ate it at home, at school, and even restaurants. Not fried bologna, that's a Southern thing. Just bologna on white bread with American cheese and Stadium Mustard.

To the extent that Buckeyes eat differently from other people, as they do less and less (just like everyplace else), it’s usually hearty farm fare -- heavy on the beef and pork -- or something ethnic. Yes, the German, Polish and Italian influences are still very strong, but currently my favorite restaurant in Columbus is Lavash CafĂ©, a terrific Mediterranean place.

And very soon, Cleveland (Chagrin Falls, actually) will have its own honest-to-goodness, craft-made, Ohio straight bourbon whiskey, made in the copper barrel-a-day stills Vendome built for Michter's in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, 40 years ago. In making it, the Herbrucks were assisted by Dick Stoll, the final master distiller at Pennsylvania Michter's, and by members of the Beam family. Tom's Foolery has built its fine reputation on apple brandy, but its whiskeys are approaching maturity. Every drop is as authentically craft as can be.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wherein We Mine More Facts About Widow Jane

In subsequent reading after Wednesday's post, I came across an interesting article on the web site for Blue Stone Press. That is the local newspaper for Stone Ridge, New York, which also serves the nearby town of Rosendale, where the Widow Jane Mine is located. The story, from March of 2013, tells how Daniel Prieto Preston, founder of Cacao Prieto, producer of Widow Jane Bourbon, came to fall in love with the Widow Jane Mine.

Most folks in the Blue Stone Press reading area probably already knew about the Widow Jane Mine itself. What would have been news was the bourbon whiskey from a company 95 miles to the south, in Brooklyn, named after and supposedly made using water from the mine.

As we learned on Wednesday, Cacao Prieto offers several different products under the Widow Jane brand name. Some are distilled in Red Hook, Brooklyn, according to the web site. The one featured in the Men's Journal article is not. A Cacao Prieto spokesperson confirmed to me today that it was distilled at MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. According to TTB rule 5.36(d), therefore, the words 'distilled in Indiana' must appear on the product's label.

They don't.

You can read the article for yourself, but do not neglect the comment that follows it from the owner and custodian of the Widow Jane Mine on the Snyder Estate in Rosendale, the Century House Historical Society (CHHS). The comment, signed by all of the officers and directors of the not-for-profit society, states that "water was not supplied by the historical society from the Widow Jane Mine for this endeavor." Furthermore, it disclaims, "the historical society has no commercial relationship with Mr. Preston and his manufacture of Widow Jane whiskey, and CHHS does not benefit in any way from the sales of this product."

Since the main article clearly states that Preston is using water drawn from the same aquifer but on property he owns nearby, the issue here is one of personal ethics and simple marketing savvy, not law. CHHS is very obviously an under-funded labor of love kept alive by small donations from local history buffs, just like the little historical sites all of us have in our local communities. While they don't own a trademark for 'Widow Jane Mine,' the fact that anyone knows about or has any affection for the place is likely due to the preservation and interpretation efforts put forth by this tiny not-for-profit whose principal mission is to preserve and protect the historic mine, and keep it open to the public.

In marketing, the nice term for that is 'borrowed equity.' Cacao Prieto is 'borrowing' (i.e., not paying for) the good will and awareness created by CHHS, but doing it in a way that is perfectly legal, much like the bar that calls the Super Bowl the 'championship' or 'big game' in its promotions, because 'Super Bowl' is a registered trademark owned by the NFL.

In itself, Rosendale natural cement is pretty interesting stuff. Technically argillaceous limestone, it is a very effective mortar when mixed with water and was used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the U.S. Capitol building, and the Statue of Liberty.

'Limestone' is the key word in the bourbon connection too. Water filtered through limestone, as it is in Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, contains little or no iron. Iron is very, very bad for whiskey-making, so limestone is good. There are also minerals in the water that help it taste good and play nice with yeast.

A savvy marketer, perceiving the marketability of the name and limestone water angle, and perhaps also anticipating the very story I'm writing now, would have long ago secured CHHS's enthusiastic permission to use the name through a generous, tax deductible donation, and probably for additional consideration could have entertained customers at the mine and done any number of tie-in events, instantly converting fans of the Widow Jane Mine into devoted buyers of Widow Jane Bourbon.

Cacao Prieto did none of that.

Since the article and comment are more than a year old, I contacted the CHHS and they confirmed to me that the comment from 2013 still expresses their position.

I heard from Cacao Prieto today too. They're not happy with me nor with many of you. I could get another lively post out of their emails but I won't, because I'm actually a much nicer guy than most of you think I am. The beautiful thing about this whole TTB Rule 5.36(d) deal (and all credit to Wade Woodard who started it) is that all Widow Jane or anyone else has to do is say, "Whoops! We're sorry, we're new at this. We will immediately add 'distilled in Indiana' to every label on our premises and offer stickers to any customers who want them, so they can correct the labels on the bottles they have in stock."

Actual use of the word "Whoops!" will be appreciated.

It's really that simple. All (well, most) will be forgiven and you won't have to waste any of your weekend writing me long emails.

And as for Cacao Prieto specifically, a nice check to the CHHS is in order too.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Association Proposes Ethics Code for Craft Spirits Producers

What follows is a press release, which I am reproducing verbatim. It is relevant to our subject of the last few days. It sounds great but there is already a serious flaw. They claim that acceptance of the code is required of all members, which might be really useful if the group would put its membership list on its web site, ideally linked to the products those member sell. Like Reagan said, "trust, but verify."

Speaking of which, they do have a list of the Association's 'founding' distilleries. It includes yesterday's transparency offender, Cacao Prieto. Since I refuse to write about vodka, someone else will need to call out some of the other 'founders.' It looks like ACSA should have gotten its own house in order before this big release.

A few years ago, the American Distilling Institute (ADI) launched a miserable certification program that landed with a big thud. Many hoped the ACSA would do better. Many still hope that.

Oh, and you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition or double-space after a period.

The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the non-profit trade organization that represents America's growing craft distilling community, today unveiled a code of ethics that all members must faithfully adhere to. Developed by the ACSA Ethics Committee under the leadership of chairman Paul Hletko, the code states the following:

ACSA Code of Ethics

"We operate in an honest, transparent and non-deceptive fashion. We inform consumers truthfully and accurately about the sources and methods used to make our spirits through our labels, materials and communications. We expect fair dealing and respect amongst members.  We obey all federal, state, and local laws."

According to ACSA president Thomas Mooney, "This brief but powerful code of ethics reassures consumers and the spirits trade that our members' products are both honest and authentic. The future of the craft distilling revolution depends on our transparency."

All members of ACSA are now required to sign on to the Code. ACSA Executive Director Penn Jensen further notes that the code creates a "statement of faith upon which the consumer can rely: what's in the bottle is what the distiller says is in the bottle." Jensen adds that "it's the consumer who over the long haul will determine a brand's fate. Ethics and honesty will play a large role in that."

Background Note: In March of this year the newly elected Board of Directors authorized a change in name for the American Craft Distillers Association (ACDA) to the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA). The change was made to include those authentic artisans who are crafting spirits through blending, re-distilling, and contracting with other distillers to build unique new products.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Death by List

It's hard to be a journalist these days. I'm not talking about myself. Without getting into what I do, my thing is pretty well set. I'm also old and will die soon (but not soon enough for some people).

No, I'm talking about young people trying to get established, find a voice, and make a living. That last one is especially hard. There are no more journalists, no writers or reporters, just content producers and content providers. The modern media devours content at an alarming rate and, consequently, values any one bit of it very little. You have to crank out an immense number of words, albeit in tiny packages, to have any hope of feeding your family, and the people you are selling them to could care less about quality or accuracy.

You probably even signed a contract making that your problem, you know, if they're ever sued.

In 1997, Puff Daddy told us it was all about the Benjamins. Today, it's all about the clicks. At that, lists excel. Lists have been popular since the Big Man dropped the first ten on Moses, but never more than today.

It's the list's premise that draws the clicks, so what's actually in the list doesn't matter much. You can't unclick that which has been clicked.

It is in that context that Jason Diamond for Men's Journal devoted 15 minutes of his day to crafting "5 American Distilleries Making Whiskey You Can Trust." In the wake of Eric Felten's Daily Beast piece, Diamond created an 'answer' list. Although he doesn't mention Felten's article, he does link to SKUs "Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries & Brands."

Then he drops, as his number two selection, Widow Jane Bourbon. I watched the article being edited live, so who knows what it says now. The fact is, Widow Jane Bourbon was distilled and aged by one of the usual suspects in Kentucky or Indiana (SKU says Indiana) from a standard recipe. Cacao Prieto bought the mature whiskey in bulk, took it to New York, and diluted it from barrel proof (about 65% ABV) to bottling proof (45.5% ABV) with water from the Widow Jane Mine.

Diamond's other four recommendations, by the way, are excellent. Eighty percent is passing in most schools, so Diamond didn't do a terrible job, he just wiffed on Widow Jane. Adding water to whiskey is not a craft. Adding water to whiskey is something millions of misguided souls do every day. There is nothing artisan about it.

Cacao Prieto does have a distillery and on the product list on their web site, the products they actually distill are conveniently labeled "Distilled in Red Hook, Brooklyn." Widow Jane Bourbon is not one of them. Instead its label says, "Pure Limestone Mineral Water from the Widow Jane Mine, Rosendale, NY."

The detective work here is pretty simple. Cacao Prieto started in 2012 and started to sell this 7-year-old bourbon that same year, so they could not have made it themselves. Since it's pretty obvious this 7-year-old bourbon was not distilled in New York State, and the true state of distillation is not shown on the label, Widow Jane Bourbon is breaking TTB Rule 5.36(d).

In fairness to Cacao Prieto, they didn't ask Diamond to put this product on his ostensibly trustworthy list, but he did, and their labeling violates Federal law. Widow Jane Bourbon may be a very fine whiskey but "artisanally crafted in Brooklyn" it is not.

If only TTB Rule 5.36(d) had been followed, Jason Diamond might have been spared this small embarrassment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

After Templeton, Who's Next? How About Tin Cup?

The prospective wrath of the United States Government, however toothless it may be in any given instance, still has the power to rattle cages. For almost ten years, Templeton Rye President Scott Bush has mocked critics of his not-made-in-Iowa rye whiskey, but when the biggest newspaper in Iowa got involved, asking questions about violations of federal labeling requirements, the company's owner stepped into the light and promised to sin no more.

So, who's next? How about Tin Cup? Here's their web site. The first thing you see splashed across your screen is "American Whiskey. Tin Cup. Colorado." Go ahead, soak up their story first, then come back here for the rest.

Behind all the breathtaking Colorado imagery is a whiskey distilled and aged at MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the source of so many non-distiller producer (NDP) whiskeys. Although Tin Cup owner Proximo Spirits has a bottling plant just down the street from the Indiana distillery where Tin Cup is made, the product is bottled at the Stranahan Distillery, in Denver, which is also owned by Proximo. That's so they can use Colorado water (i.e., Denver tap water) to dilute it from barrel proof (about 65% ABV) to bottling proof (42% ABV), and thereby say it was 'made' in Colorado.

The truth about Tin Cup has been a poorly kept secret from the beginning. Ben Landreth broke the news on Denver Westword in February. The blog RW&B (Red, White, and Bourbon) was suspicious in December of 2013. The true source of Tin Cup's whiskey has been mentioned on many other blogs and throughout social media.

So why bring it up here? Because the words "distilled in Indiana" do not appear on the label, as required by TTB rule 5.36(d). It wouldn't be credible to suppose that a big outfit like Proximo or an industry veteran like Jess Graber is unaware of the 5.36(d) requirement. It's obvious they want desperately to say "Colorado Whiskey" but can't, so they say "Colorado" and "Whiskey" a lot separately and hope you, the consumer, will put them together. No doubt many consumers have.

The words "Distilled in Indiana," even in mouse type, would rather spoil that illusion. Tin Cup is not 'made' in Colorado in any meaningful sense. It is 'made' in Indiana, and merely diluted and bottled in Colorado.

And Breckenridge Distillery, 'makers' of Breckenridge Bourbon, this message is for you too. It is, for that matter, also directed at the dozens of other NDPs whose labels are in violation of 5.36(d).

The rule could not be more simple. You're required to have an address (city and state) on your label. Everybody adheres to that one because it's pretty easy to use any address you want to use, since it only has to be a 'place of business.' But if your place-of-business address is not in Indiana, and your distillery is, then you must put 'distilled in Indiana' on your label. That's the law.

Compliance with TTB Rule 5.36(d) is not optional. You're not off the hook because TTB approved your label without that information. In fact, there are severe penalties for filing an application that omits crucial information that you know or should know (as a responsible industry member) is required.

Follow Templeton's example, Tin Cup, Breckenridge, and all the rest of you. Get ahead of the story now and demonstrate some respect for your customers.