American Craft Beer Comes to Mexico

Carmen Beer CoWhen you think of Mexican beer, light lagers like Corona, Pacifico, and Negro Modelo probably come to mind. But American-style craft beer also has been gaining market-share for years. With 60 million potential customers and $20 billion in annual revenue, the Mexican beer market is an appealing target.

Some U.S.-made stouts, ales and other hearty beers currently are imported to Mexico. Most full-flavored microbrews, however, are being produced by local breweries.

As best anyone can tell, the craft brew trend began in the mid-1990s. Which brewer came first is unclear. Some say it was Pepe y Joe’s brewpub in Mazatlán. Others point to Cerveza Cosaco microbrewery in Hidalgo or Cervecería San Angel in Mexico City.

Small brewers got a boost in 2013 when the Mexican Federal Competition Committee banned some of the most egregious protectionist practices of big brewers. No longer would the big boys be permitted to lock bars and retailers into exclusivity agreements that shut out smaller competitors. Starting a small brewery in Mexico remains a challenge, but perhaps 300 of them have sprung up.

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Outlaws of the Lakes: Bootlegging and Smuggling from Colonial Times to Prohibition

Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com
Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com

I picked up a copy of this book at the airport in Traverse City, Michigan, where, funny enough, I was attending a conference on alcohol regulation. Boy, I am glad I did.

Edward Butts did a fine job of putting together 23 chapters on drinks smuggling around the Great Lakes. The tales of mischief and intrepid dealing start in the 1690s when the scoundrel Antoine Laumet de la Mothe de Cadillac smuggled brandy about Lake Huron and Michigan. Butts carries the reader forward to the 1930s and the mayhem wrought by Al Capone, the Purple Gang, and other brutes who would do anything for a buck—be it selling toxic drinks or murdering those who interfered.

The cast of characters is quite something: Joyous Jenny, Gentleman Charlies Mills, and the “Pistol Packin’ Parson” J.Q.L. Spracklin. The structure of the book as a collection of free-standing yarns means you can pick it up and dip into it whenever you like. Keep it on your nightstand, in your desk at work, or on a shelf in your loo.

Outlaws of the Lakes is an enjoyable piece of amateur history, and has some great illustrations in it. For anyone interested in true crime tales or the lesser-known aspects of Prohibition history, this book will be a treat. Copies can be purchased online here.

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Warming Winter Whiskeys

clyde-may-old-tub-angels-envy-reducedI am a seasonal drinker. What tastes best to me in the summer swelter is not what I hoist in the chillier months. Since the cold began its bite some weeks back, I have not had a single gin drink, for example, despite it being a spirit I adore.

Mostly, my glass of late has been filled with whiskeys. Bourbon tastes especially delicious during the dark months. I picked up a handsome package of Calumet Farm Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (86 proof), which came with two nice glasses. It proved a bit of a disappointment—the flavor was thin and not very nuanced. Who exactly makes this Bourbon is far from clear—the rear label lists “Western Spirits” and “Three Springs Bottling Company.” Google those and you don’t get much. There is no Western Spirits distillery, so maybe this bourbon was bought from Heaven Hill. (Rating: Not good)

I got much more satisfaction from Clyde May Straight Bourbon Whiskey (92 proof). May, as many of you likely know, was a famed Alabama moonshiner who operated between the 1950s and 1980s. His son Kenny took the business legal, but not before running into some troubles with the law himself. Clyde May bourbon is made by Conecuh Ridge Distillery, and is aged in heavily charred barrels. It offers an intense apricot and nutmeg notes, and costs about $40 a bottle. (Rating: Very good)

A friend brought me a bottle of Old Tub sour mash, which one has a hard time finding beyond the grounds of the Jim Beam Distillery. This bottled in Bond whiskey is good stuff—a 100 proof, 4-year old spirit that tastes of corn, vanilla, barrel char, and apple. (Rating: Very good) Why is it called “Old tub”? Bourbon historian Chuck Cowdery explains:

“In 1892, Jacob’s grandson, David M. Beam, transferred the family distillery to his sons James and Park, and his son-in-law Albert Hart. They called their company Beam & Hart but gave their distillery the name of their best-selling brand, Old Tub Bourbon. As whiskey marketers are wont to do, these newly large scale commercial distillers tried to cast themselves as old-timey. Jack Beam, an uncle to Jim, Park, and Al, called his brand (and distillery) ‘Early Times’ and used terms like ‘hand made’ and ‘old fire copper’ to suggest timeless craftsmanship. His nephews’ ‘Old Tub’ was a reference to the wooden tubs in which mash was cooked, laboriously stirred by hand. Historic Old Tub labels show the mash being stirred by a dark-skinned worker, possibly a slave. The modern version just shows the tub.”

Last year, I crowed over Angel’s Envy in the Spectator. Here I will do it again. This year they released a cask strength (124.6 proof) version of their port-barrel aged bourbon. Only 8,000 bottles came to market. It is an immense drink—on must add drop after drop of water to it to find the soft spot where the flavors release. The size of this whiskey is the product of the considerable work used to produce it. Carin Moonin explains that Angel’s Envy is “made from a mash of 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley. Once the bourbon has aged a minimum of four years (and up to six years) in white American Oak, it’s finished for up to six months in 60-gallon casks that were formerly used to mature port.” (Rating: Very good) Angel’s Envy cask strength runs about $180 a bottle.  Somewhere above Lincoln Henderson, the late distiller who invented this whiskey, is smiling.

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Myrtle Whiskey: A Lesson In an Old Bottle

myrtle-whiskey-gettysburg-03-2016-reducedThis early 20th century bottle was on display at the Shriver House Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Note that the label boasts the quality of this whiskey is assured thanks to the National Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. Hitherto, the consumer could never be certain as to what he was getting in a bottle. Congress’s enactment of a statute that set basic standards for productions and truth-in-labeling was a win-win-win development. Consumers got safer drink, producers were saved from a ruinous race-to-the-bottom competition, and government had fewer members of the public damaged or dropping dead from poisonous drink.

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