Today’s Whiskey Is Not Yesterday’s—Thank Goodness

Some years ago, I attended a tasting where the representative of a well-known Scotch company claimed the whisky his firm makes today tastes the same as it did 150 years ago. This was blatant nonsense. The tipple in question is a blended whisky, meaning it was made from the products of numerous other distilleries. Many of the distilleries that supplied this drinks-maker a century ago no longer exist. And the ones that still do have changed their recipes, to say nothing of their stills and various other aspects of their production and aging process.

This hooey-slinger was no exception to the rule. Whiskey-makers and their public relations companies regularly boast of the ancient heritage of their whiskies. They claim they have been making their whiskey the same way forever. Their advertisements depict old men who carry on the heritage, using their burly, gnarled hands to distill whiskey according to a secret, immutable recipe.

Baloney. What constitutes whiskey today is very different from what was called whiskey prior to the twentieth century. Over the past 125 years, governments have enacted laws and regulations that define whiskey’s essential attributes, and set standards for the materials that may be used to make whiskey, what barrels it must be aged in.

Before this happened, in the days of yore so celebrated in whiskey advertisements, rules were few and little enforced. Customers had no idea what was being thrown into the mash. It might be potatoes, sugar, oats, turnips or whatever else the whiskey-maker could get his hands on. Usually, it was not aged in barrels, and when it was, whiskey- makers used whatever barrels they could acquire, whether their interiors were new, charred or saturated with sherry, wine or the stink of pickled fish. Often, this so-called ‘whiskey’ was barely distinguishable from gin or liqueur, having been flavoured with honey, and herbs such as thyme, anise or mint. Continue reading “Today’s Whiskey Is Not Yesterday’s—Thank Goodness”

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Who Is to Blame for the 7 and 7 Cocktail? An Interview with Adam McDowell, Author of Drinks: A User’s Guide

Source: Adam McDowell

The American Spectator’s Kevin Kosar badgers the Toronto writer Adam McDowell.  

Kevin Kosar: Congrats on the publication of Drinks: A User’s Guide (Tarcher, 2016). It’s a smart-looking book, and I enjoyed it. So how’s the weather in Minnesota?

Adam McDowell: It’s lovely, there are Canadian flags everywhere, people being very polite to each other.

Kosar: Wait…. you’re a Canadian? In Canada?

McDowell: Yes, born and raised in Toronto.

Kosar: Why?

McDowell: I’ve never had a doctor’s bill in my life. That’s explanation enough.

Kosar: As a Canadian, I trust you consume barbarous quantities of drinks like Yukon Jack, Canadian Club, Molson, and Moosehead, right?

McDowell: Ha! Yes, and Fireball, which few people realize is a Canadian product, which we’re proud of. Just like we’re proud of Justin Bieber. In all seriousness, I think Canadian drinking habits are different from U.S. ones. By and large, we drink less.… As much as there’s this image of Canadians as these macho drinkers, it’s actually a pretty moderate country in that way.

Kosar: Any bitters drinking going on up there?

McDowell: Oh, yes. You do get Bitters and ESB. The word bitter is thought by marketers to be a no-go. But it is here…. There’s a little bit more market for British porter, mild beer, that kind of thing. But it’s a small difference. Generally speaking, if you’re from the U.S. and you come to Canada, and you go shopping for beer, you’re going to have a similar experience.

Kosar: Is anyone making good wine up there? Continue reading “Who Is to Blame for the 7 and 7 Cocktail? An Interview with Adam McDowell, Author of Drinks: A User’s Guide”

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Moonshine: A Global History Gets a Shout-Out from Wine Enthusiast

Kara Newman writes:

“Much of the current demand for legally produced moonshine has been filled by small distilleries, who are often new to the booze business,” says Kevin Kosar in his book Moonshine: A Global History. “Moonshine is an attractive product for them—they can sell it and reap revenue right after it comes off the still. (Barrel-ageing spirits is costly; one must procure barrels, which are relatively expensive, and a place to store them. The spirits also evaporate, meaning less comes from the barrel than was initially put in.)”

Read more at http://www.winemag.com/2017/06/01/why-i-cant-take-a-shine-to-moonshine/

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The Bloody Mary: An Unlikely Breakfast of Champions

Mmmm, breakfast. What appeals to the mouth and stomach at the early hour when the birds are singing and the sun’s rays are spraying over the horizon? Something starchy, like toast? Perhaps some protein — eggs and bacon sound right. And perhaps a cup of coffee or tea to help shake the spell of Morpheus. That what the body needs, right?

So how is it that the Bloody Mary — usually a concoction of tomato juice, vodka, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, a stalk of celery, and a bit of lemon juice — became a famed breakfast go-to? Like much in life, it is anything but clear.

We don’t even know who invented the drink. “Popular Bloody Mary legend points to Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot, at bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in the 1920s,” writes Brian Bartels in The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Cocktail Classic, with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond (Ten Speed Press, 2017). But seeing as the bar’s head, Harry McElhone, didn’t list the Bloody Mary — or any tomato juice drinks — in his 1927 cocktail recipe book, this hypothesis is suspect. New York comedian George Jessel asserted in his autobiography that he created the drink in 1927 after an all-night bender. Another theory is that Petiot created the drink shortly after Prohibition. Petiot had moved from Paris to new York City, and was slinging the Red Snapper — vodka, tomato juice, citrus juice, and spices — at the St. Regis’ King Cole bar. So maybe Jessel came up with idea and Petiot refined it? Who knows?

Nor do we know why it was named the “Bloody Mary” or how exactly it moved from one watering hole to becoming a staple of bar menus around the world. But it did, and at least two factors explain why.

First, the food industry got into the canned juice business in a big way in the first few decades of the 20th century. This created year round bar and restaurant access to juices with long shelf lives. Juice-makers fostered consumer interest by heavily advertising the healthful effects of gulping juice in the morning. (Is acidic orange juice really what the stomach wants bright and early?)

Second, despite its ingredients — the Bloody Mary is delicious. Especially if one is a little hungover. (When really wrecked, no food or drink appeal.) The viscous tomato juice fills the stomach, the black pepper soothes its disturbances, and the whole amalgam invigorates and helps the consumer convince himself he feels fine and can endure the day before him.

Like so many good things in life, the Bloody Mary has evolved. An early version has only three ingredients (vodka, tomato juice, and lemon juice.) Recent versions have become more baroque — one might find wasabi or a pickle in the glass. Bartels himself created the “PB&J & Mary,” which is made with peanut-infused vodka (or tequila!), strawberry jam, Cholula hot sauce, and more. And some of drinks being called Bloody Mary’s are miles from the original. The “Pirate Mary,” another Bartels invention, is a luminous yellow-green rum and pineapple drink.

My own preference is for a Bloody Mary with the standard ingredients: a belt of vodka, tomato juice, dash of lemon juice and Worcestershire, a little horseradish, and a stalk of celery. And a few pieces of crispy bacon. The awakening body does need protein.
Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at R Street Institute and heads its alcohol policy reform program. He is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010). This article was first published by the American Spectator.
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