Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Last Bourbon Country Reader of 2013 Will Ship This Week


To all of the world except North America, whiskey means malt whiskey.

It's not that we don't know about malt--i.e., malted barley. The first European settlers imported it from home so they could make beer, viewed as essential for health at a time when there was no better way to make water safe to drink.

And there is plenty of malt whiskey sold here, most of it imported from Scotland and Ireland.

But Americans (including Canadians) have never made much malt whiskey until recently, as it has become a staple among micro-distillers, but still not the majors.

Major American and Canadian distilleries make small amounts of malt whiskey to use in blends, and sometimes under contract for (usually) foreign customers, but there is not now nor has there ever been a malt whiskey produced and sold on this continent by a major distillery.

Until now.

It's just an experiment--part of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection--but Woodford has just released not one but two malts, called Straight Malt and Classic Malt.

Woodford's inspiration is the notion that whiskey globally can be classified as either Old World or New World in style. Old World whiskeys such as Scotch and Irish typically have a grain-focused flavor profile and are matured in used barrels, while New World expressions such as Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey highlight new cask maturation.

Since the only difference between Woodford’s new malt whiskeys is how they were matured, this release gives us a rare opportunity to compare the Old World and New World styles side-by-side.

We do just that in the December 2013 edition of The Bourbon Country Reader. Here's a tease. One of them works, the other one not so much.

As December 25 nears, you know what makes a great gift? A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader. It's just $20 per year (six issues) for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else.

The Bourbon Country Reader is always independent and idiosyncratic and has no distillery affiliation. It is published six times a year, or thereabouts.

Click here or on any of the copious hyperlinks above to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gift Tips For Bourbon Lovers


The best gift for a bourbon lover is, of course, bourbon. But if you're looking for something else, how about a fine book about bourbon? Or a DVD documentary? Or a gift subscription to a nifty bourbon-centric newsletter. These delights are all as close as a mouse click. Look, there they are, neatly lined up to the right of this column.

If you buy here your payment goes through PayPal, which means you can use either your PayPal account or any major credit card. If you prefer to buy through Amazon, you can. Right now, Amazon is cheaper, but if you buy either book here, you can have it autographed by the author, and who can put a price on that?

The books are also available for Kindle and Nook e-readers. To find out how to do all of these wonderful things, just click one of the pictures to the right. Everything is available through Amazon except the newsletter. In addition to subscriptions, bound back issues of the newsletter are available. Click here for more information.

Bourbon, Straight. The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey has been selling very well on Amazon, perhaps because they're offering it right now for 22% off the cover price. Only Amazon knows how long they'll have it at that price. They've also got a deal on The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste at 19% off the cover price.

Here's a little tip on how you can get an even lower price on Bourbon, Straight, if you don't mind a little cover damage. The damage is very slight. The cover is intact but has some indentations in it that happened in the manufacturing. They can't be sold as new so they are being sold through Amazon Resellers as Used. Just go to the book's regular listing on Amazon and under the price look for the words "20 Used from $14.50." Click on that (or just click here) and you'll see that the $14.50 price is from Made and Bottled in Kentucky (i.e., me). You order and pay through Amazon. Unfortunately, autographs are not available with that option.

Thanks to everyone who has bought or will buy the books, DVD, or newsletter. It's the sale of those items that make this blog possible. We appreciate your support. Happy Happy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times


If these are the best of times for the American whiskey industry, the 1980s were the worst. The business of making and selling whiskey in the United States had hit rock bottom. The business had lost half of its sales volume and although sales had more-or-less stabilized (they were, in fact, still declining but at a much slower rate) there seemed to be no revival on the horizon. Because they believed the decline would be temporary, producers kept producing far too long and the industry was drowning in whiskey that fewer and fewer people wanted.

With sales down and inventories too high, profits were under intense pressure and whiskey assets were changing hands faster than a hot potato.

Most of the large producers were no longer independent. Instead they were part of conglomerates. In those days, unlike now, diversified conglomerates were all the rage. Spirits producers shared a corporate household with all kinds of unrelated businesses.

Back then, F. Ross Johnson was the powerful CEO of Nabisco. He was played by James Garner in the movie "Barbarians at the Gate" (1993). Nabisco had a subsidiary called Standard Brands that included Fleischmann's Distilling. Ferdie Falk was the CEO of Fleischmann's and Bob Baranaskas was president.

In 1983, Johnson decided to sell Standard to Whitbred, which was part of Grand Metropolitan. A few years later, Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo.

Assuming they'd be replaced after the sale, Falk and Baranaskas resigned and decided to start their own company. Falk was previously an executive with Schenley, so he approached Meshulam Riklis, whose conglomerate now owned Schenley, about selling some assets. Riklis always needed money so he agreed to sell Falk and Baranaskas the Ancient Age bourbon brand and the distillery that produced it, then called the Albert B. Blanton Distillery, today's Buffalo Trace.

Falk and Baranaskas called their new company Age International. As the name suggests, they believed bourbon's future was outside the U.S. One of their first moves was the creation of Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon. Done at the behest of their Japanese customers, they released it in the U.S. as well.

In 1991, Falk and Baranaskas sold a 22.5% interest in Age International to Japan’s Takara Shuzo, with right of first refusal to purchase the remaining shares. In 1992, Falk and Baranaskas sold their shares to Takara for $20 million. Takara immediately sold the distillery to Sazerac, but retained the corporate entity and brand trademarks.

Today, Sazerac still owns Buffalo Trace and Buffalo Trace still produces all of the whiskey for Ancient Age, Blanton's, and the other Age International brands, using a special mash bill. Buffalo Trace distributes the Age International products inside the U.S. Buffalo Trace also makes its own bourbons and other products, using a different mash bill.

Sazerac and Age International have an unusual relationship, but it has worked for both of them for now more than 20 years. It was born at a low point for the American whiskey business. This little story shows how easily things could have been very different.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lexington Herald-Leader's Janet Patton Commands The Bourbon Beat


Don't count the so-called 'old media' out just yet.

With coverage of the American whiskey industry seeming to come more and more from specialized blogs and related 'new media' sources, it would be easy to write off the newspapers and other 'old media' that might have written about it in the past.

Not so fast.

About a year ago, the daily newspaper for Lexington, Kentucky, the Herald-Leader, decided to get serious about its coverage of all things related to the burgeoning whiskey industry, especially as it applies to Kentucky. They assigned an experienced journalist, Janet Patton, and gave her the necessary time and resources to do the job right. The result has been a series of articles unsurpassed by any other outlet for their scope, relevance, and accuracy.

The media in Kentucky has always covered whiskey as a business story and occasionally from the human interest angle. Patton and her editors have gone much further. What's more, they are treating it as a subject deserving of serious examination. Patton is willing to take on difficult subjects and ask tough questions. Her readers benefit, of course, but so does the industry, when everyone is better informed. As she herself has learned more about the industry, it has become harder for producers to sell her their spin. She'll report what they say, then drill down to get the rest of the story.

If 'The Chuck Cowdery Blog' is on your regular reading list, Patton's articles should be too. Happily, this 'old media' outlet has a good online presence. Her latest story, about non-distiller producers and how they get their whiskey, is here. From there, you can connect to past stories. (Just click on the arrows.) It's worth your effort.

Technically, today's package concludes the paper's four part series, but I don't think Patton and the Herald-Leader are going to stop now. They've taken the high ground. Let's hope they fight to keep it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Montana Proposes To Separate Makers From Fakers, At Least In The Distillery's Sample Room


To start a distillery, micro or macro, you need a license from the federal government. You also need one from the state in which your distillery will be located. As they do with regard to all things alcohol, the laws vary widely from state to state. States may not be the 'laboratories of democracy' that some envision, but they are the laboratories of alcohol regulation, because there is much variety and anyone who cares to look can see what works and what doesn't.

Under Montana's distillery licensing laws, craft distillers may have a sample room, give free sample tastes, and sell their products directly to the public. This is believed to be essential if you want your state's microdistilleries to prosper. One Montana micro-distillery reported that such sales represented half of their revenue in their first year.

Although Montana's micro-distilleries can sell their own products to the public, they can't sell Bud Light. The law says they may only sell alcoholic beverage that they themselves produced on site. But the current Montana law, enacted in 2005, doesn't define 'produced.' Conveniently, the relevant federal rules do and they say you 'produce' a product even if you merely bottle it. Under that interpretation, a Montana micro-distillery could bring in any type of alcoholic beverage in bulk, bottle it at the distillery, and sell it in the sample room.

As part of a major updating of the 2005 rules, Montana now proposes to restrict sample room sales to products distilled on the premises. So there can be no doubt, the new text even defines distillation as "the process of vaporization and subsequent condensation of a beverage containing ethyl alcohol."

The new rules would still allow micro-distillers to be micro-rectifiers too, but they would not be able to sell their made-elsewhere products at the distillery.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hands At Newest Kentucky Micro Distillery Are Old Pros


People who start micro-distilleries come from many different backgrounds. Some start from scratch, or rather from itch, with no previous related experience. Many start out as brewers, a prerequisite skill for distilling. Others have experience in non-production aspects of the alcoholic beverage industry, such as sales or marketing. Some are moonshiners who want to go legit.

Then there are Pat Heist and Shane Baker, the guys behind Wilderness Trace Distillery in Danville, Kentucky. Yesterday, the Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA) announced that Wilderness Trace Distillery has joined the KDA and become the ninth stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

A special grand opening is being held today with KDA and member distillery executives, and Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, in attendance. Tours begin tomorrow at 10 a.m., with food and door prizes provided.

“Wilderness Trace and its parent company, Ferm Solutions, have more than 10 years’ experience in fermentation and distillation techniques, making them a welcome addition to our organization,” said Rick Robinson, Chairman of the KDA Board of Directors. “This new distillery is a natural extension of their core business and will allow them to showcase their expertise and knowledge.”

Robinson is Plant Manager at Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg. “We proudly welcome them as a partner in our signature industry,” he said.

Located at 445 Roy Arnold Avenue in Danville, Ferm Solutions is a long-time provider of advanced ethanol-producing yeast strains and a leader in molecular and genetic engineering technologies. The company also is developing genetically modified yeast strains for improved fermentation. It has invested more than $2 million over the past two years and employs 13 people.

Owners Heist and Baker say the distillery tours will highlight the science behind fermentation and educate visitors on the art and craft of distilling. Brands will include Wilderness Trace Bourbon, Settlers Select Danville’s Rye Whiskey, Blue Heron Vodka, and Harvest Rum.

Because so many of their Ferm Solutions customers are distillers, a small distillery seemed like a good idea. But rather than make it just another tool for the lab, they went full scale micro, welcoming visitors and making products for sale to the public.

As they were preparing, they met a Danville neighbor who is an old hand at the whiskey business, Dave Scheurich, who retired from Brown-Forman a few years ago as plant manager at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. Scheurich is a master distiller, although he never had the title, and is consulting (unpaid) with Heist and Baker on flavor sources and distillation process control.

The new distillery plans to offer classes in fermentation and distilling, some of which will be taught by Scheurich. Only truly semi-retired, Scheurich is the principal of High Spirits Enterprises LLC.

Danville is a good place for a micro-distillery, as it is the home of Centre College and historically significant as part of the original settlement area for Europeans in Kentucky, beginning in 1774. Although there is no documentary evidence to prove it, it is likely that Kentucky's first distillers were in the Danville-Harrodsburg area.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What A Drag It Is Getting Old



I am generally not a fan of bourbons and ryes aged more than 12-years. When I do like one, it's usually in the sense of "it's pretty good for something that old."

I did a lot of camping in my youth and when a whiskey starts to taste the way I smelled after several days in front of a campfire, it loses me.

Earlier this week, I expressed this view in a somewhat forceful way in a different forum and got a lot of pushback. People who like very old whiskey tend to be passionate and perhaps a bit defensive. So let me be clear. This is about what I like. You may like something different. That's okay.

This is an issue limited to American straight whiskey, bourbon and rye (and Tennessee whiskey too), because the new charred oak barrel imparts so much flavor. Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Japanese and just about every other whiskey species aged in used barrels tend to always get better with age, although there are exceptions.

With scotch, heavy peating might be parallel. It's a very strong flavor that you either love or hate.

Long aging is very risky and expensive for distilleries as so much is lost to evaporation and there is always a question mark as to how what is left will come out. We had a lot of very old whiskey in the recent past because of the post-collapse glut, some good - some not, but distilleries will try to avoid that if they can.

I'd say the 'sweet spot' is 8-12 years and distillers have been bottling more in that range in recent years. For me, it's about balance. I prefer whiskey that has a good balance of all the elements and is not super-heavy in one or another of them.

It's okay to have a different preference.

There's also a bit of a trick involved with very long aging as it's done now (i.e., post-glut). Barrels intended for long aging are put into the lowest and most central warehouse locations; which are cooler, with less temperature variation, and higher humidity. Some producers are experimenting now with very large casks, which might also lend themselves to long aging.

I'm all for offering many different styles, whether I happen to like them all or not.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Understanding So-Called 'Legal Moonshine'



Many micro-distilleries say they sell 'legal moonshine,' but since 'moonshine' is defined as 'any distilled spirit made illegally,' what is 'legal moonshine'? And is moonshine, even unofficially, a particular 'style' of distilled spirit?

The people who regulate such things, at both the state and federal levels, allow producers to call their products 'moonshine' as long as the product is also identified by its actual, official classification.

Theoretically, a producer can use the term 'moonshine' on anything, but 'legal moonshine' is usually one of three recognized distilled spirit types.

If you read the label closely you will see, for example, that Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon is actually 'grain neutral spirits.' That, friends, is another name for vodka. Vodka, aka grain neutral spirits, aka GNS, is typically made from corn. Although any grain may be used, it's almost always corn because corn is cheapest.

After fermenting in the usual way, the spirit is distilled to neutrality (i.e., above 95 percent alcohol). By law it must be without distinctive color, aroma, or flavor.

If a 'moonshine' product isn't vodka, there's a good chance it is corn whiskey. Again, it will say this somewhere on the label. Corn whiskey must be at least 80% corn and can be 100 percent corn, but unlike GNS it is distilled below 80 percent alcohol, so it retains some of the flavors created in the fermentation. Georgia Moon, a Heaven Hill product, is corn whiskey. So is the original, unflavored version of Ole Smoky, but their many flavored products appear to be flavored GNS.

Corn whiskey is the only type of whiskey that doesn't have to be aged. However, unaged corn whiskey is generally not recognized as whiskey outside the United States.

The third type of legal moonshine, and arguably the most authentic, is made from table sugar. As Max Watman explains in his excellent book, Chasing the White Dog, real moonshiners (the illegal kind) use table sugar almost exclusively because it is cheap, readily available, and ferments easily.

A few legal moonshiners make what they call 'sugar shine,' using table sugar. In some cases they will throw in some corn for flavor. Limestone Branch and Barrelhouse are two Kentucky micro-distilleries that make it that way.

It should be noted that when corn is used in this way it generally is not converted to sugar first, so it does not ferment. It does convey some flavor to the final spirit, assuming it's not distilled to neutrality. Technically, sugar shine products are rum, but most producers don't want to label them that way so they use terminology like 'cane spirits.'

For the most part these products are good clean fun, albeit nothing special as drinks. Their principal danger is that consumers will not exercise suitable caution if they are ever offered real (i.e., illegal) moonshine, which can be very dangerous.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Diageo Clarifies Orphan Barrel Project, Sort Of


This mass email arrived yesterday from a marketing agency that works for Diageo.


Before you unplug and enjoy a couple days with friends and family, we wanted to share a quick update regarding an exciting new endeavor we’re working on with DIAGEO. It’s called The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project and you may have heard whispers or read early reports about it stemming from statements made by DIAGEO CEO Ivan Menezes during their recent investors meeting. 

The team is still working on pulling together final press materials as details surrounding the project are still being finalized. However, in the meantime, we did want to share an official statement from DIAGEO – see below. 

The goal of The Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project is to share old and rare whiskey from our barrel houses with discerning whiskey adorers. The first two whiskies to be released from the project will include the 20-year-old Barterhouse and the 26-year-aged Old Blowhard. Both are American Kentucky Bourbons, hand bottled in Tullahoma Tennessee and are expected to begin appearing on select shelves throughout the U.S. in early 2014 under strict allocation due to limited supply. 

Additionally, DIAGEO is creating a separate new-to-world bourbon called Blade and Bow. Blade and Bow is anticipated to hit shelves in the second half of 2014 and is not a part of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project. 

We appreciate your patience and will be in touch when additional information is available to share.


You may have read the quotes from Menezes here last Friday. Bourbonblog posted pictures and what reads suspiciously like a press release on November 3. The additional information reported here, about what reps are telling bars in Chicago, came from a very reputable source who was on the receiving end of those pitches.

Based on what we know, what's most peculiar about Orphan Barrel is how closely it resembles something Diageo predecessor United Distillers & Vintners tried 20 years ago. That time it was called the Rare American Whiskeys Collection. It was intended to be a series of one-off releases of the most outstanding, unique, and rare whiskeys in their warehouses, which they had because they had acquired so many distilleries while building their empire. They planned to release a few every year, but the plan died a swift death at Diageo's birth. The new company changed direction and within a few years, Diageo had essentially exited the American whiskey business.

The even more odd thing about both Orphan Barrel and Rare American Whiskeys is that in both cases Diageo decided to create brand names that are unrelated to the whiskeys. In that earlier case, they took names from defunct distilleries--Joseph Finch and Henry Clay--and used whiskey from other not-identified defunct distilleries. The whiskey called Joseph Finch was not made at the Joseph Finch Distillery, the whiskey called Henry Clay was not made at the Henry Clay Distillery, and the actual distilleries were not revealed. It seemed crazy then and it does this time too. This time it is what appear to be newly-created brand names with an old-timey feel.

What is Diageo thinking? You have this supposedly great and rare whiskey but you won't tell us anything about its provenance? Then you wrap it in a package that suggests a false provenance?

Why doesn't Diageo understand that most "discerning whiskey adorers" don't appreciate being zoomed? Save the malarky for Jeremiah Weed and Captain Morgan, please. If the whiskey is as great as you say it is, why not just let it speak for itself? A Diageo rep said they're not sure where it's from. It's written on the barrel head, stupid.

It seems sometimes that Diageo is incapable of doing anything (a) original, or (b) honest.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Buffalo Trace Distillery Is a National Historic Landmark


The word 'landmark' is thrown around a lot, but the National Park Service only recognizes about 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in the entire United States. Kentucky has about 30. Three of them are distilleries.

The latest to join this exclusive club is Buffalo Trace, using its historic name of the George T. Stagg Distillery. The other two are the Burks Distillery (today known as Maker's Mark) and the Labrot and Graham Old Oscar Pepper Distillery (today's Woodford Reserve).

The designation describes the Frankfort distillery as a "highly intact" example of pre-Prohibition industrial architecture that also shows how distilling expanded once the federal ban was repealed. The buildings, which are still in active use, feature distinctive quarry-faced stonework and decorative brickwork in a 1930s-era factory style. Many barrel warehouses and other buildings are much older, dating to the 1790s. Officially, the distillery was established in 1857-58 and acquired in 1870 by E.H. Taylor Jr.

Buffalo Trace now offers a National Historic Landmark Tour that highlights the site's history.

To learn more about the distillery's Landmark designation, read Janet Patton's excellent article from this summer in the Lexington Herald Leader.

A lesser designation by the Park Service is inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Buffalo Trace received this honor in 2001. You can read the detailed application, which covers most of the same ground as the National Historic Landmarks application, here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Is Back, Sort Of


Early in 2012, Wild Turkey introduced a 40.5% ABV rye and announced that the original 50.5% ABV rye was in short supply and on allocation. Allocation plus panic buying soon created a widespread shortage and bottles of the 101 rye have been thin on the ground ever since.

Last week, with modest fanfare, Wild Turkey announced its return, sort of. It will be available in only 21 states and only in the one-liter bottles preferred by bars and restaurants.

“I have been working in this business for 60 years and if someone told me just five years ago Rye Whiskey was going to be one of the hottest categories in the spirits industry, I would have balked at the notion,” said Jimmy Russell. “To be completely frank, we didn’t realize bartenders had such a passion for it.” It’s true that rye whiskey has been booming. It’s up 41 percent in the past 52 weeks (according to Nielsen data).

Wild Turkey still sells Wild Turkey 81 Rye (40.5% ABV) and Russell's Reserve Rye (6-years-old, 45% ABV).

Before Prohibition, rye whiskey outsold bourbon in the United States. It was made primarily in Pennsylvania. Rye never really came back and nearly died out entirely during the 1970s and 80s, when the entire whiskey category went bust. The Pennsylvania industry died off and what little rye production remained shifted to Kentucky. Wild Turkey was one of the few distilleries that consistently produced rye throughout that period. The others were Jim Beam and Heaven Hill, and National until it merged with Beam in 1987. Others made rye sporadically.

The ryes made by Wild Turkey, Beam (Jim Beam Rye, Old Overholt, Knob Creek Rye), Heaven Hill (Rittenhouse, Pikesville), and Sazerac (Sazerac Rye) are 'barely legal' at 51 percent rye. Today you can also get a 95 percent rye made at MGPI of Indiana (Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, George Dickel Rye) and a 100 percent rye made in Canada (WhistlePig, Mastersons, Jefferson's Rye).

Look for Wild Turkey 101 Rye in the following states. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York (NYC only), Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C., Texas. (That doesn't add up to 21, but that is the list they provided.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Buffalo Trace Warehouse X



This will be short and sweet. I was with Lew Bryson, Fred Minnick, and Dave Waddell on November 15th as the first outsiders to see the new experimental aging warehouse nearing completion at Buffalo Trace Distillery. (Left to right that's Waddell, me, Bryson, and Minnick.)

You should read Lew Bryson's article about it here, with pictures by Fred Minnick. I have little to add except that I admire the willingness of Sazerac/Buffalo Trace to invest real money in experiments that won't yield any useful results for decades, and maybe not even then. That's what companies do when 'long-term thinking' is more than just a commercially-attractive catch phrase.

One thing Mark Brown said that day that struck me: part of their preparation for this was to see what other research has been done on making bourbon. Virtually all of it, he said, was about how to age bourbon faster. None of it was about how to age bourbon better.

Fred 'took' the photograph above, even though he is in it. He set it up. Someone else pushed the button, which is an important job too.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Diageo Announces New Bourbons, Not That It Needs Them, It Says


According to Shanken News Daily, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes revealed on Tuesday that the company is prepping two new bourbon brands for release next year. The first, Orphan Barrel, will be priced from $75 to $125 a bottle and is scheduled to appear in the first quarter of 2014.

The other will be called Blade & Bow and come out later in 2014.

Menezes provided no details about either product but Diageo reps are telling on-premise accounts that Orphan Barrel will be sold only to them. ('On-premise' means bars and restaurants, as opposed to stores.) It supposedly will be made up of 'lost' barrels 'discovered' at Diageo's Stitzel-Weller Distillery (SW). Diageo stopped distilling there in 1992 but has continued to use the facility for maturation and blending.

Diageo has long been secretive to the point of paranoia about what it's actually doing at Stitzel-Weller, so it's hard to believe anything they say. A Diageo rep also claimed Orphan Barrel will be given only to four exclusive accounts in the Chicago area.

Diageo is particularly secretive about what it matures at SW, but it is widely believed that Bulleit Bourbon is among the products aged there. In his remarks Tuesday, Menezes predicted that Bulleit will reach the precious million-case threshold "over time," which is not exactly a bold prediction. It's at 600,000 now. Sales in the U.S. grew by 27% last year, but 60% of Bulleit's sales are outside the U.S., in Canada, Australia, Mexico and the U.K.

In response to continuing speculation that Diageo will acquire Beam Inc., Menezes noted that Diageo's share of the North American whiskey market is 23%. Most of that is attributable to Crown Royal Canadian Blended Whisky. The next biggest chunk is Seagram's Seven Crown American Blended Whiskey. He claims that means Diageo and Brown-Forman are tied for #1. Brown-Forman's flagship, of course, is Jack Daniel's.

This week Diageo also announced "a multiyear marketing partnership with the NBA, which will make Diageo the exclusive spirits partner of the league." The main brand beneficiaries are Crown Royal and Ciroc Vodka with the men's league and Baileys with the women's.

“Our brands have the unique privilege of participating in some of life’s greatest celebratory moments the world over and what better partner to bring those moments to life than the NBA,” said Peter McDonough, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer, Diageo. “From the players and competition to fashion, music and nightlife, the NBA opens the door for us to leave a lasting impression with adult fans in truly innovative and meaningful ways around the game.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last Chance (Probably) for the Chuck Cowdery Experience



Mint Julep Tours announced last week that there are just four places still available for the March 12-14, 2014 Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience. Sure, it's still four months away, but with just four places left it will fill up in a flash, so if you've thought about joining us this is probably your last chance.

We might add another date later in the year, but that's not a sure thing. If you think it would be fun to bop around Kentucky with me on a comfortable bus, seeing things most visitors don't, it's time to pull the trigger.

The Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience is three full days of touring. We'll visit a couple of distilleries, a cooperage, and a place where they make bourbon candy. We'll pay our respects to Dr. James C. Crow and see copper stills being made. We'll take you shopping for bourbon at one of the popular local retailers and wrap it all up with a tasting at a favorite Louisville watering hole.

Because the distilleries and other attractions are pretty far apart, there's a lot of driving. We'll fill in that time talking about bourbon. It's going to be a small group, just 20 people, so there'll be plenty of time to chat. You should come, it's going to be a lot of fun.

The folks at Mint Julep Tours will make sure we're safe and sound, amply fed and watered, and exactly where we're supposed to be at all times. Go here for complete details. To book, or for any questions, call Josh Dugan at 502-384-6468, ext 306, or email him at josh@mintjuleptours.com.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Revenge of The Olds



They say the best revenge is living well.

Sometimes the best revenge is just living.

Back when the American whiskey business was collapsing, in the 1970s and 80s, a lot of smart people tried to figure out why fewer and fewer consumers wanted to drink American whiskey, and what could be done about it. They gathered all the data they could. One thing they discovered was this: the brands losing market share the fastest all had the word 'old' in their name.They became known collectively as 'The Olds.'

They were everything you didn't want your brand to be.

In contrast, what sort of brands were holding their own? The ones whose first name was a Christian name, not 'Old,' but Jack, Jim, Ezra, or Evan.

Many of the Olds went away. A few survived. Three of the biggest 'Olds' were Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, and Old Overholt, all products of the National Distillers Corporation. Back before the fall, Old Crow was the best-selling bourbon in America, Old Grand-Dad was the best-selling premium bourbon as well as the best-selling bond, and Old Overholt was the best-selling rye whiskey.

Flash forward to 2013. The Olds are back. Beam Inc., which acquired National Distillers in 1987, has given the Olds a new home on the internet.

"We launched the 'Olds' first-ever web site with the intention of introducing three iconic whiskey brands to those who haven’t yet experienced them," says Dan Cohen, Beam Inc. Senior PR Manager. "Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow and Old Overholt are three of our finest and most legendary whiskey brands, each of which has seen tremendous momentum recently – especially on-premise and among bartenders."

"Explorers" searching for "new options" are the target audience. The site is intentionally over-the-top. It features content developed in partnership with The Onion, America's Finest News Source.

The basic idea is to personify the three brands as three twenty-something guys who enjoy a good time. Old Overholt looks like a 19th century stevedore, Old Grand-Dad looks like a degenerate riverboat gambler, and Old Crow looks like the counterpart degenerate riverboat skipper. Their antics (in short films that can be viewed on the site) are as old as "A Hard Day's Night," but they get the idea across.

Beam has spent next to nothing promoting these three brands in the 26 years it has owned them, so it's good to see them finally do something. Old Overholt is good whiskey. Old Grand-Dad is very good whiskey. Old Crow not so much, although Old Crow Reserve is an improvement on the standard version.

Since all three brands are growing without support, Beam decided to see if it could boost them even more with a modest spend.

Will it work? Who knows? If we've learned anything these last few years, it's that anything is possible.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What is CRAFT?



What is CRAFT? In the all-cap format, it refers to yesterday's CRAFT Spirits & Beer event in Miami, two kick-off dinners the night before, and a wrap-up one this afternoon. In lower case, it's a question we discussed on two different panels at yesterday's event. Both uses merit some reflection.

First, the event. It is the brainchild of Jennifer Massolo, who took the chance that Miami bars and restaurants, and their customers, would attend and enjoy a showcase of craft spirits and beer, complemented by creative food and drink. They seemed to, even though there wasn't a mojito in sight.

One hates to say 'first annual,' but you have to put events like this on regularly for them to catch fire and become something the community looks forward to attending. Craft spirits and beer are connected to other trends, such as creative cocktail mixology, creative cuisine, and the locavore movement.

Being as they're all forms of personal expression, CRAFT was held in an exhibition space in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, an up-and-coming arts district, not in the usual hotel ballroom or convention center.

Second, the question. Yesterday's event consisted of a tasting hall and several seminars, including two sessions about "What Is Craft?" I moderated both but the panelists were different for each round. Jennifer had the great idea of including not just craft producers but also distributors, beverage managers, and mixologists.

No one offered a pithy definition of 'craft.' It was more along the lines of "I know it when I see it." The panelists disagreed about whether or not craft has to involve originality or creativity, about the role of size ("Can a big distillery be craft?"), and about the best ways to educate consumers.

"Disagreed" might be too strong but both discussions were lively, all of the participants were engaged, and it's probably good that we had a time limit or we'd still be talking about it.

People like Kent Fleischmann (Dry Fly), Chip Tate (Balcones), Ralph Erenzo (Tuthilltown), Nicolas Palazzi (PM Spirits), and John Glazer (Compass Box) attend this sort of thing all the time all over the country, but I rarely do outside of Chicago and Kentucky. Miami has such a unique and exciting cultural mix and that played into it too.

One thing about which everyone agreed is that this movement is happening very fast, people (that is, consumers) seem to love it, and no one can predict what will happen next.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Brown-Forman Releases Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye



Collingwood, Ontario, is a small town at the southern end of Georgian Bay. There is a big ski resort there, Blue Mountain; and a Canadian Whisky distillery, Brown-Forman's Canadian Mist Distillery. In addition to Canadian Mist, the distillery makes Collingwood Canadian Whisky, a small super-premium line extension. Now they are releasing a Collingwood limited edition, a 21-year-old whiskey made from 100% malted rye.

When it was distilled, the small unnamed batch of malted rye whisky was identified only as lot 41-06-91. It has now become Collingwood Rye 21-Year-Old. The spirit was matured in seasoned oak barrels and as a finishing step, rested with toasted Maplewood.

Maplewood finishing is the Collingwood brand's trademark. It is a final step before bottling. Maplewood finishing should not be confused with the maple flavoring added by Crown Royal and others. Maplewood finishing does not impart a maple syrup flavor. It is a true wood note and subtle. It doesn't taste like maple syrup at all.

Although the regular Collingwood is a Canadian blended whisky, this is a straight rye by U.S. definition.

Collingwood Rye 21-Year-Old is bottled at 80° proof with a suggested retail price of $69.99. In Canada it will be available only in Ontario. In the U.S. it will be sold in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming only.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Bourbon Joke


This joke was told to me many years ago as I enjoyed lunch and a bourbon in the bar/billiards room at the Pendennis Club in Louisville. The Pendennis Club is a legendary private club in downtown Louisville. It has been guilty in the past of all the ills associated with elite private clubs in the South, but has also been an integral part of the city's business and government communities. Among other notable achievements, it is usually regarded as the birthplace of the Old Fashioned.

The story is told that the bartender at the Pendennis Club bar had a special arrangement with a certain United States Senator from the Commonwealth, who was a club member and frequent presence in the barroom. When the Senator walked up to the bar he would conspicuously request "the usual." The bartender would surreptitiously scan the room to determine which local whiskey baron was present. He would then pour a few fingers of that maker's main brand into the Senator's glass, making sure the bottle and label were visible to all.

This worked fine for many years until one day the Senator entered, put on his show, and waited for his reward. He took his drink, sipped it, and immediately and involuntarily spit it out. He anxiously leaned in to the barkeep. "Why on earth did you give me a gin and tonic?" he sputtered. "Sorry, Senator," came the reply, "but they're all here."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Trouble with Whiskey History


It's often said that history is written by the winners. Then we get 'revisionist' history, written by the other side. Often history says as much about the preoccupations of the present as it does about doings in the past.

You might think history is absolute--something either happened or it didn't--but you'd be wrong. While there is science involved, in the form of facts that can be verified (JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963), there is also art. Good history writing is storytelling, and the best story usually wins. (Conspiracy theories persist because they're better stories.)

Sometimes stories get simplified to fit the available space. Columbus didn't exactly 'discover America' but what he really did takes some time to explain. Maybe 'Columbus discovered America in 1492' is sufficient in some circumstances.

Add a commercial element and you create an incentive to tell the story that sells best. That's why even brands that are blessed with oodles of real history tend to fudge it here and there.

For example, the claim that Jack Daniel’s is 'the nation's oldest registered distillery’ is not only false, it's ridiculous. Assuming they're talking about registration with the Federal Government, the first distilleries were registered when the first Federal Excise Tax was enacted in 1791, 59 years before Jack was born.

The 'oldest registered distillery' claim, like many others, is based on facts that cannot be verified, otherwise known as 'tradition.' You would think that if Jack Daniel registered his distillery with the Federal Government in 1866 there would be some kind of document, but there isn't. It's tradition. Jim Beam claims that Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of whiskey in 1795. The source? Beam family tradition. Bulleit Bourbon claims that Augustus Bulleit came to Louisville from New Orleans in 1830 and established a distillery. Source? Bulleit family tradition.

Even so, some claims are more fictional than others. One day a few years ago, Sazerac decided to declare William LaRue Weller 'The Father of Wheated Bourbon.' In addition to plucking that claim out of thin air, it's based on an immaculate conception, since Weller wasn't even a distiller. He didn't make whiskey, he just sold it.

It's worth debunking these stories because it's nice to know what's true and what's not, but it's hard to get too outraged about the fibs. It's neither unusual nor unpleasant when a story told over a few bourbons is exaggerated. We should take the stories, and their debunking, in that spirit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of Quercus Alba and Eumycotians



Mushrooms are tasty on pizza, battered and deep fried, or stuffed with crabmeat. Maybe you like grilled portabellas with polenta, or shiitakes in a stir fry, but probably not mushrooms in your whiskey.

Fair enough, but mushrooms do help your whiskey taste good. It has only recently become known that mushrooms, of a microscopic sort, play a vital role in the seasoning of white oak (Quercus Alba) for whiskey barrels. Scientists call it fungal colonization. It is an early part of the wood’s natural decomposition process.

Cooperage, the craft of making barrels is, like the craft of making whiskey, a charming blend of the very traditional and very modern. Today, exciting scientific advances in cooperage are helping whiskey producers with everything from quality control to new product development.

The primary buyers of new oak barrels are wine and whiskey makers. Brown-Forman Corporation (BF) is the only whiskey maker that also makes barrels. They have a large cooperage in Louisville and are building another one in Alabama, strategically located close to some large stands of white oak and also that little distillery they own in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Brown-Forman a few years ago stopped selling new barrels to other distilleries. Perhaps they’ll get back into that business after the new cooperage comes on line.

The other big barrel maker, which also supplies wineries, is Independent Stave Company (ISC). They are based in Lebanon, Missouri, but also have a large cooperage in Lebanon, Kentucky. (They give tours.) There are several others, all much smaller than BF and ISC.

Although cooperage is more automated today than it was 150 years ago, it still requires considerable skill. Machines can plane staves and cut heads, but they can’t arrange the staves in just the right way so the barrel won’t leak. Only a highly-skilled human can do that.

Those mushrooms we were discussing, fungi if you prefer, send out roots (hyphae) that penetrate into the wood structure and release hydrogen peroxide, a natural bleaching and oxidizing agent that helps break down the wood chemically, softening tannins and caramelizing hemicellulose among other salutary effects.

First in the pool (a fresh-cut oak is about 60 percent water by weight) is Aureobasidium pullulans, one of the species of common mildew, the same black stuff you clean off your shower tiles. As the wood dries it becomes inhospitable to pullulans which pulls out (okay, dies) and is replaced by another type that thrives in the slightly drier environment. One after another a succession of different fungal species (eumycota) and sub-species each have a go at it, including the one from which the medicine penicillin is made.

By studying these mushrooms modern science proved the superiority of a traditional cooperage practice – air drying – that had been widely abandoned in the United States after World War II in favor of kilns. Kilns remove moisture effectively but they stop the biological processes (fungal and bacterial) that make many of the wood’s flavor components available for absorption by maturing spirit.

In the first stage of seasoning, if humidity and other weather variables are favorable, fresh-cut logs will be left in the field for days or weeks. From there they go to a stave mill, close to the forest, where they are roughly broken down into staves and head pieces. From there they are shipped to the cooperage, where they are neatly stacked in the yard, fully exposed to the elements. There they will remain for anywhere from three months to two years, and in some cases even longer. Often the wood that is given only a short time outside is finished via kiln.

As you probably guessed, it’s a cost issue. You pay a premium for long air seasoning. Expensive whiskey probably should be aged in long-seasoned wood. The next time someone tries to sell you a certain bourbon or rye, ask them: “How long were your barrel staves air seasoned?”

You probably should be impressed if they even know what you’re talking about.

Friday, October 25, 2013

What Andrew Mellon Really Did With Old Overholt


James Cromwell does a wonderful job with a small role in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." His is one of the actual, historical characters mixed in with the fictional ones in the hit series, which recently launched its fourth season.

Cromwell plays Andrew Mellon, then Secretary of the Treasury. At this point in the series he is relatively new to the job, having been appointed by President Warren G. Harding in 1921. He served under the next two Republican presidents too, until 1932. Then he was indicted and tried, but never convicted, by the Roosevelt administration.

In Season Three, we learned that Mellon owned the Old Overholt Distillery in Pennsylvania. The script writers have him conspiring with Nukie Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) to operate the distillery illegally. As Treasury Secretary, Mellon had partial responsibility for enforcement of the Prohibition laws.

Mellon, a banker, was one of the richest men in America. He was good friends with Henry Clay Frick, who made his stupendous fortune supplying coke to the steel industry. Frick was the grandson of Abraham Overholt, who had responsibility for his family's still on their farm near Pittsburgh starting in about 1800. By the time Frick came along toward the end of Abraham's life, Overholt's rye whiskey had made the family rich. Overholt employed many family members, including Henry Clay. After Abraham died, Frick muscled out the other cousins and took control.

When the Old Overholt Distillery needed financing to grow, Frick sold half of his two-thirds to his pal Mellon. He also made Mellon the executor of his estate. So when Frick died in 1919, Mellon gained full control of what was by then one of the largest and most successful whiskey distilleries in the country.

We don't know if Mellon did any of the evil things depicted in "Boardwalk Empire," but we do know one thing he did that would be unacceptable today.

This was before the days of blind trusts and concern about conflict of interest. Mellon was considered a great man, a supremely successful businessman who chose to end his working life as a public servant and philanthropist. No one questioned it when, as Treasury Secretary, he granted himself a lucrative franchise in the form of a medicinal whiskey license.

The license allowed Old Overholt to legally sell existing whiskey stocks ‘for medicinal purposes only,’ but not to distill. Medicinal whiskey companies didn't make a lot of money, but the license was valuable. Because of it, Mellon was able to sell Overholt for a good price toward the end of Prohibition to Seton Porter, who was putting together what became National Distillers.

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is still sold today. It is made and owned by Jim Beam.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Come See Me in New York at Leket Whisky Night, Tuesday, November 19


Leket Israel is Israel's national food bank and largest food rescue network for the poor.

To benefit Leket, the American Friends of Leket are having a fine whisky tasting and auction on Tuesday, November 19, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Pl, New York, NY. The event will feature rare and aged spirits, gourmet kosher catering, expert whisky sommeliers, a fine whisky and spirits auction, and more.

General admission tickets are $200 each and still available. The exclusive VIP tasting, at $360 a ticket, is sold out.

I'll be there to meet and greet, and comment on the various whiskeys on offer, both for tasting and bidding. An individual supporter of the charity is donating rare whiskeys from his personal collection for the auction. Call 201-331-0070 for more information or to purchase tickets.

I hope to see you there.

Here are some of the auction items (partial list and subject to change):

Parker Heritage Collection, 1st Edition, 2nd Edition (27-year-old)
Buffalo Trace Antique series (Stagg, WLW, Sazarac 18, Handy, Eagle 17), 2009, 2010, and 2011 releases
Jefferson's Presidential, 17-year-old, 18-year-old
Van Winkle Family Reserve 12-year-old (lot B)
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012
Rittenhouse Rye, 21-year-old, 25-year old
Van Winkle Rye
Stratisla 42-year-old
Glendorach 42-year-old
Ardbeg, Alligator, Airigh Nam Beist
Albefeldy 21-year-old
Glen Ord 30-year-old
Tamdhu 30-year-old
Miltonduff 38-year-old
Black Bull 40-year-old
Linkwood 38-year-old
Millburn 27-year-old
Forty Creek Confederation
Talisker, 25-year-old, 30-year-old
Maccallan 18-year-old (1980)
Port Ellen 26-year-old

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Come See Me in Miami at CRAFT Spirits and Beer, November 8-9


The primary mission of CRAFT: Spirits & Beer is to "help connect the finest distilleries and breweries with both the trade and the consumer." I hope to see you there.

The main event is on Saturday, November 9, at Soho Studios in Wynwood. I'm hosting two panels on the subject "What Is Craft?" The earlier one, from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM, is for the trade. The second one, from 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM, is for the general public. The other panelists are micro-producers as well as distributors and retailers.

Anyone who follows this space knows I've asked some challenging questions on that subject ever since the dawn of the craft distilling movement. I expect a lively exchange of ideas.

After that, drinking.

On Friday evening, November 8, I'm hosting a dinner at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. The special menu will match foods with craft whiskeys from High West, Koval, Balcones, and Dry Fly. Here's a short interview with me on Michael's web site.

Chip Tate, the Head Alchemist at Balcones, will be attending CRAFT. That gives me an opportunity to correct something in the new Bourbon Country Reader. As my brother swiftly pointed out to me, Balcones is in Waco and Waco is not "West Texas." Sorry.

As for what else I'm doing at CRAFT, I don't really know. Those are my scheduled events. I'll be around and accessible. So if you're in Miami that weekend, check it out. I hope to see you there.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Medley Brothers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. What's Old Is New Again



Here's something to look for that's both old and brand new. It's called Medley Brothers Bourbon. It is from Charles Medley and his son, Sam, who have been producing Wathen's Single Barrel for about 15 years now.

Charles is the son of Wathen Medley, who is second from the right on the label above.

This is a four year old bourbon, 102° proof, that will retail for about $25. The label is virtually the same as their label from the 1950s, showing the five Medley brothers. It's NDP (non-distiller producer), but Kentucky-made (not MGPI).

It's similar to Angel's Envy in that Charles Medley, like Lincoln Henderson, spent his whole career as a hands-on distiller, so he's doing the quality control for this, i.e., picking the barrels. Their products are contract distilled, not bulk, and use their mash bill which is 77 percent corn, 10 percent rye, and 13 percent barley malt.

Earlier this year they came out with a 12-year-old. It's very good, but also very limited. The Medley Brothers will be in ten states initially. I know Kentucky and Illinois are two of them. I don't remember the rest.

Some might say, "big deal, it's just an NDP whiskey with a story." True, but it's good whiskey and a true story.

The new Medley Brothers bourbon is very rich with all of the good wood flavors, but with a little bit of grain too. One thing about bulk whiskey (also called spot market whiskey) is that, especially in the current environment, you don't always get the pick of the litter. You have to take what the distillery is willing to sell you, which often isn't their best stuff. There are 4-year-olds the distillers will sell in bulk and 4-year-olds they keep for themselves, for their own brands. This tastes more like the ones they keep for themselves.

Who made it? They won't say, of course. Who will do contract distilling? Almost anyone with the capacity. Why not? You get paid up-front plus you get an income stream from aging, and you never have to worry about selling the stuff when it matures because the NDP owns it. Sell-through is their problem.

Most start-ups can't afford to do contract, they need whiskey they can sell right away. Therefore the micro-producer looking to create a brand, or the micro-distillery looking to sell sourced whiskey to get some cash flow, is buying on the spot market. They usually have very little capital to invest and don't want to wait four or five years before they have something to sell. If you're going to do that, you might as well build a distillery.

Most contract work is from established businesses. The considerable whiskey that Diageo buys from MGPI and others is all contract. What regional rectifiers like Phillips, Luxco, Frank-Lin and Paramount buy is contract. I suspect Templeton Rye, which has been a successful brand for six or seven years now, has switched from spot to contract.

Heaven Hill uses a contract distilling model with their distributors. The 6-year-old whiskey that will be 7-year-old (theoretically) Evan Williams next year isn't owned by Heaven Hill. They sold it to their distributors years ago, when it came off the still. This allows Heaven Hill to free up capital to invest in more production and gives the distributors a favorable price, especially in an expanding market. Heaven Hill works with its NDP customers the same way. Heaven Hill was probably doing a little less of it until they expanded Bernheim sufficiently, but Heaven Hill has always done both contract and spot as a regular part of their business.

Brown-Forman still has quite a bit of excess capacity in Shively so they're happy to do contract. They just prefer to work with other producers, people who already know the industry. I've never really talked to anyone at Beam about it but I know they do it too and I suspect their attitude is the same as Brown-Forman's.

No producer except MGPI has any interest in talking about this part of the business. With everyone else, if you want to write something about them, they'd prefer you write something about the brands they own. Nobody, including MGPI, will talk about what products use their whiskey and that's fair. If I'm a contract producer, I'm making and selling whiskey with certain specifications. I don't really know if Customer A is using that whiskey to make Brand B. It's none of my business and I don't care. I just make the stuff.

In considering this particular NDP whiskey, you also have to remember who Charles Medley is. He's not some guy who last year got a wild hair to start a whiskey business. He's been doing this for 50 years and knows everyone in the business. He started at Medley when the family owned it and stayed as master distiller with every subsequent owner, down to and including United Distillers, which became Diageo. When Diageo sold the Owensboro distillery in 1992, Charles bought it. He also bought the 8,000 or so barrels of whiskey that were still in the warehouses. Those were still the glut years and Diageo didn't want it.

A few years ago, Charles sold the distillery -- which had never reopened -- to CL Financial, which also owned what is now MGPI of Indiana. They still own the Owensboro plant. Lots of people have kicked the tires but no one has bit. Reportedly, the owner has an inflated idea of what the place is worth.

Although it still bears his name, Charles Medley has no interest in owning it again, or in (at age 72) distilling again anywhere.

Those 8,000 barrels of bourbon that Charles bought in 1992 are what Wathen's Single Barrel was originally. When that started to run out, they looked around for partners. They needed whiskey, they also needed someone to bottle and distribute it. They worked with Luxco for a while. There was also a period when they weren't doing much of anything. Now it's Frank-Lin, from California.

Sam Medley, son of Charles, is now the driving force. They figure this is a good time to ramp it up and make a real business out of it. In a couple of years they hope to be doing 30,000 cases, most of that in the Medley Brothers.

What does Charles do? He isn't hanging out at the distillery. He's sitting in his office, tasting samples, deciding what's ready and what needs to age a little longer. Who will do contract under those terms? Just about everybody. The list of who won't is shorter: Maker's, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Woodford. In all of their cases it's just because they don't have enough capacity. With the enlarged distillery, I wouldn't completely rule out Wild Turkey.

Do I care? Not too much. I know it's one of the usual suspects and I know it's Charles Medley, not Craig Beam or Chris Morris, who is doing the quality control.

I don't want it to sound like I'm working for them because I'm not, but I think there is a qualitative difference between this and the many micro-producer whiskeys that have come on the market recently.

Happily, Medley Brothers Bourbon is reasonably-priced and should have wide availability, so you can decide for yourself if it's worthy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New and Improved Map of Kentucky Distilleries



View Kentucky Distilleries in a larger map

I created this Google Map late last year. I'm reposting it because I have made a few additions.

First, what this map is. It shows the location of every distillery in Kentucky, both craft and major producers. Red pins are micro-distilleries, blue pins are major distilleries, green pins are inactive distilleries. Click on the pin to see the name of the distillery and whether or not it is open to the public. Where available in Google Maps the exact address is included, along with other listing information.

'Inactive' means the distillery part of the operation is inactive; and not just inactive but demolished in most cases. The ones included are mostly still owned by major producers and used for maturation. I added several more of those, all in the Bardstown area. Included is the name by which that distillery was best known.

There are no inactive micro-distilleries, so all of the green pins are sites of inactive major distilleries. Most of them stopped distilling in the 1970s. Heaven Hill in Bardstown is a green pin because the distillery there was destroyed by fire in 1996, but Heaven Hill still has a lot going on at that site including maturation, bottling, offices, and the Bourbon Heritage Center.

In all cases, I have tried to be as accurate as possible as to the locations, so if you ever want to visit them you can. Most are not open to the public but the sites can be thoroughly viewed from the public right of way. Please do not trespass! The whiskey in those warehouses is worth a lot of money. Even though security seems lax, don't be surprised if guys in pickup trucks show up suddenly if you get too close.

I've only included places where there is something left to see and where you can see it from the street.

Where I still need to do some work is around Louisville and Shively. Maybe next year.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

There's More to Kentucky than Whiskey


As a vast country populated by people from all over the world, you can't beat America for diversity. It's one of the great pleasures of living here, and discovering the diversity of different regions is one of the pleasures of travel.

Diversity, of course, takes many forms. Foodways is certainly one of them. Kentucky, being in many ways a bridge between North and South, draws from the food traditions of each and has some that are unique. Kentucky bourbon whiskey tops the list, of course, but the list goes on from there.

You don't even have to travel to enjoy Kentucky's bounty. Most of it will come to you.

As you may have heard, cereal grains such as corn, wheat, rye, and barley can be used to make products other than whiskey.

Weisenberger Mill is located on South Elkhorn Creek in southern Scott County, Kentucky, in the tiny town of Midway. The creek has provided water to power the mill's turbines since the 1800's. Six generations of Weisenbergers have operated the mill at its present location since 1865. They make a wide variety of flours, corn meals, grits, and mixes, all of which can be ordered online.

The spoonbread (an eggy version of cornbread) is awesome.

Midway and environs have become an upscale bedroom community for Frankfort and Lexington. The cute downtown, bisected by a railroad, has several excellent bars and restaurants. Most notable among them is Ouita Michel's Holly Hill Inn.

If you head into Western Kentucky, the land gets flatter and the local specialty is meat. Owensboro is famous for its burgoo, a meaty stew, and mutton barbecue. Moonlite and Old Hickory are two well known purveyors, but there are many others. The annual festival is in May.

The whole state of Kentucky is full of great barbecue places, and Wes Berry has tried them all. Happily, he wrote a book about it.

Head toward the Tennessee border and ham tops the menu. Dry-cured country ham is the main attraction, but it's all good. Most ham curers also make incredible sausage, bacon and other pork products, and being cured they travel well. Here again, there are many high quality outfits such as Newsom's, Broadbent, Finchville, and Gatton Farms.

For something a little healthier, consider a salad of Bibb lettuce. This tasty variety was developed in the backyard of Jack Bibb's Grey Gables house in Frankfort. Bibb served during the War of 1812 and represented Logan County in the Kentucky House of Representatives and the state Senate from 1827 to 1834. An amateur horticulturist, he developed the lettuce and shared the seeds with friends. It was first commercially produced in 1935. For more, go here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Reader Will Be In The Mail Soon


I released the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader to the printer today. That means it will go into the mail in a few days. Subscribers should have them by this time next week, or thereabouts.

"Thereabouts" is a very important word in The Bourbon Country Reader's promise to our faithful subscribers, that we publish every other month, "or thereabouts." The "thereabouts" this time was a big one. The last issue, which said June on the masthead, actually went out in early July.

I won't make excuses. Sometimes it's just hard to get them out. That's what the "thereabouts" is for.

Last time, we explored where non-distiller producers (NDPs) get their whiskey. That was a good issue. So is this one. It is one of our rare 'all reviews' issues. Seems like a good time for one, right before the holiday shopping season. There is, in fact, a story about that very thing, and why your favorite whiskeys just might not be the best gifts.

Do you know what does make a great gift? A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader!

The Bourbon Country Reader lets me go into more depth on subjects I may touch on here on the blog. The simple pitch is this. If you're into bourbon, you really should subscribe to The Bourbon Country Reader. It is produced and delivered the old-fashioned way; ink on paper, in an envelope, brought personally to your home or office by a uniformed representative of the United States government. (Separately budgeted, so not subject to shutdown.)

How much would you expect to pay for six issues of such a stellar publication? $300? $500? But you won't pay that. You won't pay $100, or even $50. You won't even pay $25 (unless your mailbox is outside the USA). A six-issue subscription is still just $20!!!

The Bourbon Country Reader is always independent and idiosyncratic and has no distillery affiliation. Subscriptions are $20 for U.S. addresses and $25 (a new lower price!) for everybody else. It is published six times a year, or thereabouts.

Click here or on any of the copious hyperlinks above to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Government Shutdown Already Affecting Beverage Alcohol Industry


According to Shanken News Daily this morning, "The government shutdown is starting to affect the beverage alcohol industry, with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau halting label approval and permits for new production facilities. The shutdown will at least temporarily snarl as many as 400 label approvals a day, and the large numbers of craft breweries and distilleries currently in the planning stages will have to wait longer for permits. The bureau said, however, that its website will continue to be available and drinks companies will 'continue to be able to file electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes and operational reports.'”

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chuck Cowdery Mint Julep Tour Update


Places for the March 12-14 "Chuck Cowdery Bourbon & History Tour Experience" are filling up fast so if you want to go, don't wait much longer before you pull the trigger. I'll be heartbroken if you're not there.

Imagine it. You, me, a couple of bottles, with somebody else driving, criss-crossing Kentucky's bourbon country. I'll show you all of the cool and fun bourbon-related places we can squeeze into three days. It's as up-close and personal as any sensible person would want to get.

The folks at Mint Julep Tours will make sure we're safe and sound, amply fed and watered, and exactly where we're supposed to be at all times. Go here for complete details. To book, or for any questions, call Josh Dugan at 502-384-6468, ext 306, or email him at josh@mintjuleptours.com.

You may wonder why there are only a couple of distillery tours on the itinerary. It's because the distilleries do a great job of showing you around, explaining everything, and answering your questions. You don't need me to help you tour Jim Beam. In fact, if you want to hit some of the other distilleries, come a day or two early or stay through the weekend. They'll be happy to see you. If you want to do it on a bus, with somebody else driving, Mint Julep can hook you up.

Instead of visiting every distillery, we'll hit some of my other favorite places. We'll see bourbon barrels being made. We'll see bourbon stills being made, in the place where virtually all of them have been made for the last 100 years. We'll visit the world's only bourbon museum, and eat some good Kentucky grub. There's even a cemetery on the itinerary.

Each day of our tour will begin and end in Louisville, so you can enjoy everything that city has to offer, including some great hotels, bars, and restaurants. We'll start and end each day at the Mint Julep offices in the Galt House, which is right on the Ohio River and close to everything downtown. Every day except Friday, that is. We'll end the last day with a special tasting and nosh at the St. Charles Exchange.

Come on. You know you want to be there.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Southern Wine and Spirits Is Still Not Local Enough For Missouri


Warning: this post is very inside, about the booze business and the laws that regulate it. It may be sleep-inducing for some readers.

The U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause was intended to create a national market for goods and services by preventing states from unfairly favoring in-state versus out-of-state businesses. With regard to alcoholic beverages, the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, turned the Commerce Clause on its head. It gives the states broad discretion in the regulation of beverage alcohol sales.

Although the Twenty-first Amendment doesn't specifically require it, all states have used a mandatory 3-tier distribution system as part of their regulatory scheme. That means producers may only sell to state-licensed wholesalers, and only they may sell to the state's retailers, both stores and bars. (Missouri actually has a 4-tier system, but that's irrelevant for our purposes.)

Part of the rationale for this system is that producers are often national or international. It might be very hard for a state to legally 'reach' an akvavit producer in Sweden. That's why all states require wholesalers to be local business entities. The Swedish producer might be out of reach, but the distributor that actually brings the product into the state is not.

Unfortunately, a way around this requirement was easily found. Wholesalers are able to do business in multiple states by simply incorporating a subsidiary in every state in which they want to operate. As a result there are many wholesalers, such as Southern Wine and Spirits (SWS), that are effectively national companies. They comply with the letter of the law, if not its spirit.

Missouri's alcohol regulators have an answer for that. Simply incorporating a subsidiary in the state isn't good enough for them. They require that the licensee be at least 60 percent owned by Missouri residents and they carefully define who qualifies as a Missouri resident for their purposes.

Back in 2011, SWS sued in Federal Court to challenge the constitutionality of Missouri's rule. The trial court sided with the state and on Wednesday the 8th Circuit affirmed that decision, ruling that "the legislature legitimately could believe that a wholesaler governed by Missouri residents is more apt to be socially responsible and to promote temperance, because the officers, directors and owners are residents of the community and thus subject to negative externalities -- drunk driving, domestic abuse, underage drinking -- that liquor distribution may produce."

SWS was emboldened to sue because the U. S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Granholm v Heald (54 U.S. 460) revealed a chink in the Twenty-first Amendment's armor. The Court famously held that, "the aim of the Twenty-first Amendment was to allow States to maintain an effective and uniform system for controlling liquor by regulating its transportation, importation, and use. The Amendment did not give States the authority to pass nonuniform laws in order to discriminate against out-of-state goods, a privilege they had not enjoyed at any earlier time."

What the Court ruled was that the Twenty-first Amendment does not grant states a universal pass on the Commerce Clause when alcohol is involved. It was the first case to acknowledge an exception. When a law is unrelated to a legitimate state interest in regulating the transportation, importation, and use of alcohol, the usual understanding of the Clause applies.

SWS has not announced if it will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Meet Tom Blincoe. Because Distilleries Don't Build Themselves


The whiskey business isn't just distilleries, it's many other businesses that provide a variety of products and services. And just as whiskey distilleries are specialized, so are their suppliers. Two cooperages make most of the barrels, one copper and brass fabricator makes most of the stills, and one construction company builds most of the buildings.

That company is Buzick Construction. Last Friday Buzick's President, Tom Blincoe, was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. His father-in-law, Donald Buzick, built the company's first barrel aging warehouse in 1941. It's still in use by Heaven Hill at the site of the former Fairfield Distillery on Bloomfield Road in Bardstown.

In 1975, Buzick brought in Blincoe to run the construction business. In 1977, Blincoe moved his family to Lynchburg, Tennessee, so he could oversee the construction of 39 warehouses for Jack Daniel's, a project that took five years.

In 1991, on assignment to build a new warehouse for Maker's Mark, Blincoe developed a new system that allows the 'heavy lifting' part of warehouse construction to be done with equipment. Using his system, barrel warehouses can be built faster, more economically, and more safely.

With the current bourbon boom, Buzick's business is booming too. In addition to warehouses, they build visitors centers and other distillery buildings. Their restoration of Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve Distillery won a national historic preservation award.

Under Tom Blincoe's leadership, the fourth generation of his family is now working in the business.

At the induction event, Blincoe was introduced by Joe Fraser, Vice President of Manufacturing for Heaven Hill Distilleries, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was created in 2001 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, "to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness. It is the highest honor given by Kentucky’s legendary bourbon industry."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Master Distillers' Unity Bourbon to Raise Money to Fight ALS


Limited editions have become a fixture of the whiskey world and this is the most limited one yet. Only two bottles of Master Distillers' Unity Bourbon will be sold, in a two bottle boxed set, to the highest bidder at Bonham's Whisky, Cognac and Rare Spirits Auction on Sunday, October 13 in New York City. There will be only one opportunity for consumers to taste this bourbon, on Saturday, October 12 at WhiskyFest New York.

All proceeds from the auctioned set will go to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, which was established by the ALS Association to raise money for research and patient care, in honor of 6th generation Master Distiller Parker Beam. In 59 years at Heaven Hill Distilleries, Beam has created leading bourbons such as Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and Larceny.

In February, Parker Beam and his family announced that he has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Since then, Heaven Hill has launched a series of initiatives to raise money for the fund. In this one, the seven major Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries (Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve) have united to marry their bourbons together in a once-in-a-lifetime bottling, with the final blend being overseen by Parker Beam. The idea behind the two-bottle set is that there will be one to drink and one to keep for the winning bidder.

Each master distiller made a special selection of whiskey to donate to the cause. Other bourbon industry partners such as Saxco Industries, Walsen International, and Promotional Wood Products donated the high-end packaging materials (e.g., silver closures, silk lining). Bonham's 1793 Auction House is waiving its commissions.

If you want to taste the Master Distillers' Unity Bourbon before you bid, you can. Ten additional bottles will be poured during a WhiskeyFest Tribute to Parker Beam on Saturday, October 12. Parker will be in attendance to talk about his long career as an elite whiskey maker. The event will be hosted by Whisky Advocate Publisher and Editor John Hansell.

"The Master Distillers' Unity initiative is perhaps the best single example of how our competing distilleries can come together for one of our own and join forces for a greater good," noted Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira. "We are proud to have spearheaded this effort and proud of how our industry can collaborate for a great cause."

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Four Roses, the All-Bourbon Blend



Though well-intentioned, the Federal regulations known as the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits can have unintended consequences. One is that a perfectly good descriptive word has been taken out of the lexicon.

That word is 'blend,' as in 'blended whiskey.' The rules say a combination of two or more different whiskeys is a blend, but a combination of two or more whiskeys that have the same classification is not a blend. Therefore Four Roses Yellow Label (pictured, above) is labeled 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,' even though it is a blend of ten different straight bourbons.

'Blend' is generally considered a dirty word because it can also mean a combination of straight whiskey with neutral spirits (i.e., vodka). In the USA and nowhere else, a mixture that is 80 percent vodka and just 20 percent whiskey can be called 'blended whiskey.' Since that describes most blends on the market, it's no wonder the word is eschewed.

Then there is Four Roses Yellow Label. A perfectly good way to describe this product is as a blend of ten different bourbon recipes. They usually resort to 'mixture' or 'combination' to avoid the dreaded b-word.

Four Roses arrives at ten recipes by combining two different mash bills with five different yeasts. They explain it all very well on their web site, here. Although Four Roses likes to talk about the ten recipes and the characteristics of their five yeasts, what they won't tell you are the all-important proportions. How much OBSK is in yellow label, how much OESO.

Four Roses used to be owned by Seagrams and blending is very Seagramsey. Crown Royal, the best-selling of what used to be Seagrams whiskeys, is a Canadian Blended Whisky. Canadian rules are very different and Canadian blends are respectable, as are Scotch blends. It's only a dirty word here.

This is too bad, because as the American whiskey industry continues to evolve, blending has a lot of potential. Wild Turkey has just released a limited edition called Forgiven that blends straight bourbon with straight rye. They say it was an accident but it looks more like a deliberate imitation of High West's Bourye. Jim Beam's Devil's Cut could be considered an all-bourbon blend since it combines regular Jim Beam Bourbon with the very smoky bourbon they extract from empty barrels. The 2012 edition of Heaven Hill's Parker's Heritage Collection (PHC) combined rye-recipe bourbon with wheated bourbon.

Four Roses Yellow Label is an excellent bourbon and a great value at around $20, but the 2012 PHC really shows the potential of all-whiskey blends. It is an example of what whiskey-makers at the height of their powers can accomplish. The whiskeys selected and the blending proportions (never revealed) resulted in a superb whiskey that is so much more than the sum of its parts, it ranks as one of the best American whiskeys ever made.

With micro-distillers inventing new whiskeys every day, and with MGP of Indiana making more than ten different whiskey recipes, blending is becoming a way for non-distiller producers (NDPs) to create original whiskeys rather than just bottling an existing whiskey made by one of the major distilleries. That's revolutionary and could be really cool, especially if the NDPs don't lie about it (a long shot).

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bourbon Made in Mexico? Read the Story, Watch the Movie



In 1920, legal distillation of whiskey and all other beverage spirits stopped everywhere in the United States. Between state prohibition and restrictions imposed during WWI, the number of distilleries still operating in the United States had already dwindled to almost none. We now know that a few distilleries continued to operate, but did so outside the law.

Even the six distilleries that got medicinal whiskey licenses could only sell whiskey that was already made. Not until 1928 would they get permission to make more.

Mary Dowling, who took over at the Waterfill & Frazier Distillery after her husband died, wasn't ready to give up in 1920. She devised a bold and unique solution. She hired Joseph L. Beam, then considered the dean of Kentucky's bourbon distillers (1st row, middle). His assignment was to dismantle Waterfill & Frazier, load it onto a truck, and haul it to Juarez, Mexico. There he would put it back together and resume making bourbon, legally.

Beam's job was to make it. What happened to it after that was someone else's problem.

We know he took sons Harry and Otis along to help, and perhaps some of the others. He had seven of them (pictured above), trained them all to be distillers, and all of them found work once it was legal again here.


Most of what we know about this story comes from the children and grandchildren of the participants but it has never been in doubt. The Juarez distillery continued to operate after 1933. A few years ago, when they finally replaced the last of the original equipment, they contacted Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville, who made it. They offered to return anything Vendome might want, Vendome just had to pay the shipping cost. Vendome asked for and received the doubler, which they have on display at their Louisville offices.

Recently, another piece of likely evidence surfaced at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. It is :44 seconds of newsreel film, dated 1931. Here is how they describe it: "This film helps illustrate the impact of prohibition upon border communities, 1920-1933. It is possible that the company featured in the film is that of Stillwater and Frazier, which began production in 1927 and continued through the 1970s under the name D&W. During prohibition, a number of bars and clubs previously located in El Paso moved over the border into Juarez."

Not exactly on point, but close enough. No one in the film has been identified but Beam family members who have seen it say the man standing on the barrels with a clipboard could be Joe L., who returned to Kentucky before the end of Prohibition to run for Jailer of Nelson County, a position to which he was elected twice. He went on to found Heaven Hill Distilleries.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The First-Ever Chuck Cowdery Bourbon Tour Is October 16-18, 2013



Picture it.

You, me, a couple of bottles, with somebody else driving. I show you all of the cool and fun bourbon-related places we can squeeze into three days. I'm there the whole time, so you can ask me every obscure bourbon question you've ever wondered about. It's not like a private and personal tour of bourbon country, it is a private and personal tour of bourbon country.

Okay, there will be a few other people along, but not very many. And they'll all be cool. There are just 20 places available for each date. That's it! You can book the inaugural tour (October 16-18, 2013) or get a jump on the spring tour (March 12-14, 2014).

When we have teased about this in the past the response has been enormous, so please don't dawdle. I'll be heartbroken if you're not on the bus when we roll out that Wednesday morning.

The professionals at Mint Julep Tours will make sure we're safe and sound, amply fed and watered, and exactly where we're supposed to be at all times. Go here for complete details. To book, or for any questions, call Josh Dugan at 502-384-6468, ext 306, or email him at josh@mintjuleptours.com.

I lived in Kentucky for nine years, from 1978 to 1987, and fell in love. Actually, I fell in love several times, but only Kentucky herself has been constant. I've never stopped traveling to and around the state and would love to show you why I keep going back.

You may wonder why there are only a couple of distillery tours on the itinerary. It's because the distilleries do a great job of showing you around, explaining everything, and answering your questions. You don't need me to help you tour Jim Beam. In fact, if you want to hit some of the other distilleries, come a day or two early or stay through the weekend. They'll be happy to see you.

So will I. The Mint Julep folks have been great about helping me make this tour really special. We'll get a rare inside look at Vendome, where all the stills are made. Their century-old family business is booming, custom-making stills and other equipment and vessels for distilleries small and large. You'll probably see some stills before their owners do. We have special lunches planned, I'll take you shopping, and we'll wrap it all up with a tasting at a top Louisville bar and restaurant. Each day will begin and end in Louisville, so you can enjoy everything that city has to offer, including some great hotels, bars, and restaurants.

Come on. You know you want to be there.