A Drinky Gifts Guide

Source: Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell, Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) .

By Kevin R. Kosar

No to rock-hard fruitcakes. No to hideous neckties that match nothing in one’s wardrobe. No to useless contraptions like the Ronco inside-the-egg scrambler. And no to more electronic gadgets that pester and scatter the mind with pings, bleeps, and jangles.

Go for drinky gifts instead, which cannot fail to delight and provide hours of levity in these weird times of creepy willy-wavers in America and belligerent lunatics on the other side of the globe.

 

Beer

Thirty years ago, the best beer I could find in most groceries was Michelob or Lowenbrau. How times have changed in our grand land. These days, you can throw a rock in any direction and it has a high probability of hitting a good bottle of beer. Which makes shopping for brews easy.

Among the brands I would recommend are Germany’s Riegele bocks and Dortmunders, Montana’s Grand Teton Brewing’s gose and ales, Oregon’s Full Sail Brewing’s entire line-up (everything is great), and the big ales and stouts made by Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery, Founder’s Brewing Company, and New Holland.

You might also box up and put a bow on bottles of Guinness’ new beers, like the Antwerpen Stout or Rye Pale Ale.

 

Hard cider

Icky sweet apple ciders in 12-ounce bottles are common in U.S. grocery stores. Skip them and grab a 750 milliliter bottle of old style cider. Le Lieu Cheri’s Cidre Fermier and Cave de la Lotterie (imported by Wine Traditions Ltd) are dry, light, and decidedly earthy ciders ($10-$12). The aromas arising from these sparkling beverages are sour and mushroom-y. I served these ciders as whistle-wetters before our Thanksgiving dinner. At a mere 5 percent alcohol they can be enjoyed without getting you loopy.

 

Bourbon, whiskey, and rye

Never has it been a better time to be a whiskey drinker. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy Bourbon (aged in port barrels and $50 a bottle) and the splendid Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon (finished in French oak barrels and $40 a bottle) are among the brands that have reconceptualized the flavor profile of bourbon without abandoning its essence: sweet and fiery. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s flag ship straight bourbon whiskey (86 proof; $35) gives the tippler a sense of what the whiskey century ago must have been like: a thick with charred barrel flavor and a little hot on the swallow.

Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, which won the American Distilling Institute’s distillery of the year award, offers the whiskey lover a veritable smorgasbord. They make a wheat whiskey, a bourbon, a malted rye whiskey, two single malts, and an unaged whiskey. All retail for $40 to $60. Smallish (200 ml) bottles of five different Cedar Ridge whiskeys come in the oh-so-givable American Whiskey Explorer package ($70).

The big boys of American whiskey also have upped their games in recent years. This year I quite enjoyed Wild Turkey Decades (104 proof; $150), George Dickel Barrel Select (86 proof; $40), Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select (94 proof; $65), and Maker’s Mark Cask Strength (108 to 114 proof; $60).

Rye, as everyone knows, has made a yuge comeback. To get a sense of old rye versus new, consider giving someone a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye (100 proof; $27) and a fifth of Filibuster Dual Cask Rye (90 proof; $45). The former tastes of grain, black pepper, and a little apricot. The latter is gentler, slightly sweet, and offers apple and floral notes. I love each of them. If you want to impress a rye aficionado, pony up $110 for WhistlePig 12-year old rye (86 proof).

 

Wine and fortified wine

Hands down, the best wine I tasted this year was also the priciest: Ken Deis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60 most places; $25 via NakedWines.com). This red tasted like a cross between Bordeaux and a new world fruit bomb. It was utterly succulent, and showed faint blueberry and cedar notes. I nearly wept when the bottle was empty.

If you want remarkable bang-for-the-buck, wrap up some bottles of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines (imported by Palm Bay International). These Portuguese red wines have remarkably diverse flavor profiles. Da Fonseca’s Ripanço ($12) reminds me of beauojolas nouveau. It is light bodied, floral, and only a little fruity. The Jose se Sousa 2015 ($17) is very old world—it is dry, vegetal, and shows a clove note. Meanwhile, Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2014 ($15) is very new world. It offers immense fruit and vanilla notes and all but screams for pairing with steak, roasted vegetables, and gooey or salty cheese. For those with deeper pockets, the $40 Domini Plus 2014 would make a welcome gift for a wine collector. This inky red wine is very fruity, tannic, and dry, and will age well. Da Fonseca, I should add, produces terrific fortified wines. The Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 2010 ($17) would appeal to those who enjoy port. It has floral and peach notes. Yum.

Speaking of fortified wines, Vignobles Constance et Terrassous, Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d’âge 6 (35 proof; $30; Regal Wine Imports) is a gorgeous amber-red dessert wine. All the delicious port-type flavors —fig, honey, etc.— are here. Serve neat at room temperature or very slightly chilled and enjoy it with your feet up and your hand near a good book and cheese tray.

 

Books on cocktails and more

For the person who loves to read of drink, there are abundant choices. Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell’s Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) carries eye-popping photographs of Soviet anti-drink posters from the 1960s to 1980s. The government produced bazillions of them, but the downtrodden citizenry kept boozing. Steven Grasse’s Colonial Spirits (Abrams Image, 2017), as I previously wrote, is a wild and amusing romp through early American drink.

Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink (Ten Speed Press, 2016) is a lengthy, deep-dive report on how America’s cocktail scene revived over the past 30 years. As someone who was in the thick of the whole New York City drink scene in the 1990s, I can attest that Simonson got much of the truth. Those of an antiquarian bent might enjoy receiving a copy of Sherry Monahan and Jane Perkins’ The Golden Elixir of the West (TwoDot, 2018). It is filled with amusing old yarns about American whiskey.

Friends and family who like to DIY can be given Emma Christensen’s Modern Cider (Ten Speed Press, 2017), a pretty tome that teaches how to make various fruit ciders, shrubs, and wines.

And those feeling charitable to the industrious hack who has written innumerable columns for your eyes, you can help feed his family and fishing habit by filling stockings with his slim tomes on whiskey and moonshine.

Kevin R. Kosar edits AlcoholReviews.com is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010). This post also appeared at the American Spectator.

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American Whiskey Trail Tour, Day 5

George Dickel’s modest tasting room and gift shop. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

Don’t get me wrong — Jack Daniel’s is a very impressive company. Its sales growth over the past 40 years is mind-boggling. During the 1970 and 1980s, most American whiskeys saw their sales drop. They laid off workers and cut back on capital upgrades.

But not company the Jasper Newton Daniel started 150 years ago. It went gangbusters, helped in no small part by celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, who guzzled it on stage. (Anthony even had an Old No. 7 electric guitar made.)

And Daniel’s did itself a great favor by taking a rather fanatical attitude toward execution. If they were going to make a bazillions cases a year, they were going to keep quality high. It presently keeps three full timers on the payroll to do nothing more than burn wood into charcoal, which is used to filter the whiskey after it comes off the still. It continues to use a copper still, and gets its barrels from its parent company, Brown-Forman, and nobody else. A Jack Daniel’s microbiologist cultures the yeast it uses by the thousands of gallons, and the lactobacillus for its sour mash. To call the Jack Daniel’s distilling crew control freaks is both accurate and a high compliment. No wonder the stuff sells in 160 countries.

Continue reading “American Whiskey Trail Tour, Day 5”

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A Private Tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this article from 1997 because the old copy still gets so much reader traffic. Mr. Bedford died in August 2009.

A Private Tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s

By Kevin R. Kosar

I stood alone on the sixth floor of the Marriot Marquis next to the brass keydrop. Travelers from around the world swarmed about me, checking in and out. Outside cold winds howled through Times Square. If ever there was a day to be tasting whiskey…

A week earlier an unbelievable email had popped up on my screen- an invite to have a private tasting with Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller at Jack Daniel’s. What better way to learn about Jack Daniel’s two super premium whiskeys, Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey?

Out of the horde he stepped, the man whose photo I had seen so many times before. A kindly PR fellow, Clay Dye, from Dye Van Mol & Lawrence, introduced us and took us to a quiet area in an adjoining restaurant, where we sat and got the lowdown on Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey.

Most of AlcoholReviews.com’s readers are likely familiar with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Black Labeled Whiskey. Our readers are also likely aware of the difference between Tennessee whiskey, which Jack Daniel’s is, and Bourbon. In terms of the production process, whereas Bourbon is distilled and then sent to barrel to age, Tennessee whiskey is distilled then filtered, then aged in barrels. In the case of Old No. 7, the whiskey is run through 10 feet of charcoal made from hard sugar maple before being aged in charred white oak barrels, which are, Mr. Bedford noted, used just once.

Mr. Bedford impressed the difference between Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey on me by allowing me to sample raw spirit just after distillation (call it proto-Bourbon), and raw spirit that had been charcoal mellowed (call it proto-Tennessee whiskey). The difference was obvious, what was once fine white lightning was now much softer.

Gentleman Jack (80 proof) takes the Jack Daniel’s formula for Tennessee whiskey and incorporates and extra step- a second charcoal mellowing AFTER it has been aged. The result? Well, Old No. 7 is fair copper and has a fireball candy spiciness on the tongue, along with a nutty taste. Gentleman Jack is much smoother, much softer, exhibiting more barrel and charcoal flavors, along with faint currant and hazelnut notes. It’s quite good. (Rating****)

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel is an intriguing product. Unlike Old No. 7 or Gentleman Jack, each bottle of Single Barrel comes from (you got it) a single barrel, chosen by Mr. Bedford for its excellence. So that makes the whiskey in a bottle of Old No. 7 or Gentleman Jack a blends? “No,” Mr. Bedford rightly noted, “They are intermingled whiskeys. Blends usually are whiskeys that are made from the products of many distilleries. We don’t do that. Our No. 7 and Gentleman Jack are made only from Jack Daniel’s whiskeys, intermingled to create a consistent taste and quality.”

The Single Barrel (94 proof) that I sampled was much darker than the other JD whiskeys. Six to seven year in the barrel left it a deep copper-red color. In the mouth it was much more intense, and far fuller in flavor. The grain, caramel, vanilla and charcoal flavors were wonderfully balanced, and it was clearly the best of the the three. Bedford’s thirty-some years at Jack Daniel’s was born out by the quality of this whiskey. (Rating ****)

Jimmy Bedford and Kevin R. Kosar. Credit: AlcoholReviews.com.

Before our time together ended, Mr. Bedford mentioned that in addition to buying bottles of JD Single Barrel, folks could also purchase a whole barrel. For about $8500 you could stop by JD’s Distillery, and go into their storehouse to pick a barrel. The barrel would then be drained into about 240 fifth bottles, and shipped to you along with a customized sticker and a brass plaque and framed certificate of ownership. When I asked how many folks took advantage of this opportunity, Bedford smiled. “Well, so far we’ve sold about 600 barrels. We’ve even had some repeat customers.”

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Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey Liqueur

We are way overdue to review this new release.

When the bottle arrived some months ago we thought, “Oh great—Jack has come out with its own version of Southern Comfort.  Blech.”

Per the instructions that came with it, we popped it in the freezer reluctantly and forgot about it for some days.

When we finally got up the gumption to try a slug, we were quite surprised.  Jack Daniel’s Honey is not saccharine sweet or boozy.  Not even when it is served at room temperature.

Although it is an obvious choice for hot toddies, this whiskey liqueur is a treat to sip neat.  It offers butterscotch, honey, floral, and that unmistakable Jack Daniel’s flavor.  At $20-$24  bottle retail, it is bound to please many.  (Rating ****)

Plenty of retailers sell it both at brick and mortar shops and online.

 

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How Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Gets Made

This short video provides an simple and informative explanation of how corn gets transformed into Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfsQEVDxuFI

Ignore the gibberish about “secret ingredients,” and the business about filtration getting rid of “impurities” is a bit cockamamie, for it is impurities that make alcohol taste like something.  (I.e., if you filter away all the impurities you end up with  tasteless, odorless pure alcohol.)  One one thing you do not see is the aging of the whiskey, which produces much of a whiskey’s flavor.

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8/2009 Jimmy Bedford, Distiller of Jack Daniel’s, Dies

The August 10, 2009 copy of the New York Times reported the death of Jimmy Bedford at age 69.

Some years back, I met Mr. Bedford for an interview at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. He was in town for a whiskey festival, and graciously gave this then young spirits writer a half hour of his time.

Bedford was the sixth master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. Like so many other whiskey-makers, he liked to say that his job was to ensure that his product stayed the same. Of course, things cannot stay the same. Equipment gets updated, the fermentables used to make the whiskey evolve, the product changes, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

While at the helm, Bedford ramped up production of Jack Daniel’s #7 and offered new whiskeys, such as Gentleman Jack. When he stepped down in 2008, the Lynchberg distillery was booming.

Jimmy Bedford, R.I.P.

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