Touring the American Whiskey Trail Tour, Day 2

A nearly-completed Vendome still. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

We all have heard the story: manufacturing is dying in America. All the good blue collar jobs are moving to Mexico and China. America’s middle-class employment has been hollowed out — the few get lucrative white collar jobs, and pretty much everyone else is stuck doing low-pay hourly work.

There is some truth to this glum picture. U.S. manufacturing employment is down since 2001. But all is not awful. Indeed, in at least one line of business we are seeing a resurgence in American manufacturing: drinks-making. The casual news reader might intuit this much, what with the reports of American liquor production and exports booming.

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Touring the American Whiskey Trail, Day 1

Worker about to grind grain at George Washington’s Mount Vernon distillery. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

Where better to start a tour of the American Whiskey Trail than at Mount Vernon? George Washington often has been called the father of our grand nation — the prototype of this new man, the American.

Appropriately, he owned a distillery that made whiskey. Washington got into the business at the end of his presidency. In 1797 he gave the thumbs-up to Scotsman James Anderson to build a distillery at his beloved Virginia home to produce high-quality hooch.

And what a distilling operation it was. The mill powdered grain with millstones imported from Europe and marvelous wooden machinery that marvels the eye today. The distillery was 75 feet long by 30 feet wide, with five stills. Within a couple years, George’s booze barn was belching 10,500 gallons of rye whiskey and other spirits, and it was profitable.

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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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Great Drinks for Dad On Father’s Day

El BuhoMan does not live by bread alone. And a father, well, he needs even more, what with the middle of the night wake-ups, the tantrums, and the exploded filthy diapers. I have four children. Under the age of 10. Just this evening, my four-year old got out of bed 7 or 8 times with assorted excuses, including “My eye hurts.”

Yes, my needs are many.

Come father’s day, my hope is that I can slip out at the sunrise and head to the river. There I’ll rent a rowboat, and make my way onto the water still turbid from today’s rain. Cormorants and other birds will lead me to a promising spot. I’ll pitch my anchor, bait treble hook rigs, and let the heavy line from two rods sink in the Potomac. With any luck, the catfish will hit, and I’ll return to dock midday feeling like a master caster.

That’s how I want to start my day.

And I will conclude Dad Day sitting outside with a glass in hand. A special day justifies a special drink, one I know and love. The possibilities are many, but any of these would do quite nicely:

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon: I really like this whiskey. It comes in a bulbous, perfume-like bottle that shows its deep amber color. Sometimes I can handle this 90 proof drink straight up; but usually I prefer it with a single ice cube, which softens it so I can better enjoy its rich flavors. It is worth every penny of the $30 to $35 a bottle my local retailer charges. Continue reading “Great Drinks for Dad On Father’s Day”

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Bourbon Made In Ohio? You Betcha

Source: Tom'sFoolery.com
Source: Tom’sFoolery.com

Sitting on my desk is a tumbler of bourbon. Its deep amber color shines out through the dewy glass. Tom’s Foolery is its whimsical name. It is 90 proof (45% alcohol by volume), and tastes of corn, apple, vanilla and barrel char. It is a little fiery, despite being being aged 3 years. A new whiskey from Kentucky, you may wonder? Nope, this bourbon is from Chagrin Falls—Ohio.

It is a common misperception that bourbon “by law” can only be made in Kentucky. As this bottle shows, bourbon can be made anywhere in America. Federal regulations declare: “the word ‘bourbon’ shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.” These same regulations require bourbon to be made from a recipe that uses not less than 51% corn as fermentables, and that the whiskey be aged in barrels made from new oak. That is all.

Kentucky, for certain, has a good claim as the birthplace of bourbon. As whiskey expert, Chuck Cowdery notes in “Bourbon Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey,” The state was shipping its whiskeys down the Mississippi River to New Orleans 200 years ago. “Bourbon,” as best we can guess, is a monicker that folks back then used to refer to the hooch coming from the great swath of Kentucky that was then part of Bourbon County.

Today, most bourbon comes from Kentucky. Jim Beam alone is filling a half-million barrels per year. But Indiana long has which produced an ocean of whiskey, and new bourbon-makers are popping up everywhere. More than 20 states have bourbon distilleries, according to data from the American Distilling Institute. Ohio alone has a half dozen small bourbon-makers.

These new makers of bourbon frequently break from the common mold. Tom’s Foolery is aged first in new oak barrels (per the federal regulations), then finished in casks that formerly held applejack, the potent apple-based booze. Grass Widow (91 Proof/45.5% ABV) is distilled in Indiana, then spends its last aging days in barrels that once held Madeira, a fortified red wine. The effect is a very un-bourbon bourbon. Grass Widow has a corn sweetness, but also is fruity and a bit herbal tasting. Missouri’s Pinkney’s Bend Distillery offers bourbons aged in stout beer and port wine barrels.

All of which means that I should not feel bad that this bottle —and glass– of Tom’s Foolery is nearly empty. There are many more new bourbons to try.

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Angel’s Envy Bourbon Whiskey Cask Strength

Angels Envy Bourbon Cask Strength
Some time in the 1990s bottles of whiskey finished in flavoring casks first landed at our door. They were Bowmore Scotch whiskies, some aged in barrels that once held Oloroso sherry, others spent time in casks that held port or Bordeaux red wine. (Use our search engine to locate our reviews of Bowmore Darkest, Dawn, Dusk, and Voyage.)

Not long afterward, Jameson 1780 Irish whiskey arrived—it too had been Oloroso cask finished.

Bourbon-makers did not take up finishing until more recently. They were content to leave their whiskeys in charred barrels the full-time. Then distiller Lincoln Henderson decided to finish fine Bourbon in port casks—thus Angel’s Envy was born.

We first tasted Angel’s Envy in 2011—and promptly pronounced it terrific. That was the 86.6 proof (43.3% ABV) version. A couple years later,  another critic declared Angels’ Envy the best booze on earth.

Here we have a monstrous incarnation of Angel’s Envy—a whopping 127.9 proof (63.95 ABV). This whiskey is amber tinted red, and is very palatable at full proof. Adding water releases various notes—honey, fig, nuts, corn… There’s a lot of there there. (Rating: Very Good)

Only 8,000 bottles were released to the world. Get one before it’s gone. You can read more at http://angelsenvy.com/, and you might be able to source a bottle with InternetWines.com.

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