Let’s Talk Bourbon and Tulips…

Let’s Talk Bourbon and Tulips…

Let’s talk bourbon and tulips. I popped into the Philadelphia Art Museum recently to browse an exhibition and found myself wandering the European Art wing.  One of the historically reconstructed rooms is originally from the Netherlands (built in the early 17th century), a part of a brewery compound on the River Spaarne in Haarlem. On the antique table in the middle of the room was a strange looking white, porcelain vase with blue, painted decorations.  At the bottom of the vase, in script, it says “Irrational Exuberance.” It took me a minute to realize that this was a tulip vase and the reference was to the Netherlands’ tulip mania in the 1630s. This vase is a perfect addition to this reconstructed room because Haarlem (the town where this room is from) was the...

New Distilleries in Pennsylvania

New Distilleries in Pennsylvania

The American Whiskey Convention in Philadelphia was a bit of an inspiration for me to spend a bit more time discussing the boom in whiskey distilling here in Pennsylvania.  The “White Dog Row” element of the Convention showed off 11 new make spirits from 8 different local distilleries.  White whiskey is the backbone of any distillery.  It shows the character of the grain, the flavors contributed by the yeasts and the potential of the spirit.  No amount of aging can fix a bad white whiskey foundation.  I think it was important to highlight the potential of our local distilleries through their white dogs.  It also gave a chance for the distillers and representatives from those distilleries to speak directly to the public about their work and their visions for the...

Whiskey and Technology

Whiskey and Technology

Has technology in whiskey production taken anything away from American whiskey? So much of the growth of whiskey production in this country has been wrapped up in innovation and technology.  Whiskey production, early in our nation’s history, was limited by how much your local distiller could make in his/her still.  A distiller was limited by how far they could move product.  Roads weren’t great, and rivers only flowed one way.  Once steam boats were invented in the late 1700’s and started being commonly used to navigate rivers in the 1800’s, whiskey had a new way to get to customers.  River traffic created a need for canal systems.  The 1820’s brought the locomotive and the Industrial Revolution.  The 1830’s saw the invention of the Coffey still and now bulk...

Lets Hear It For The Maltsters!

Lets Hear It For The Maltsters!

One of the most amazing steps in making whiskey is the one of the first steps and is often overlooked in its importance. The first step is farming the grain, of course.  This is incredibly important in determining the quality of the grain.  So much is dependent upon the growing season, weather, rainfall and soil quality.  One harvest will differ from the next.   After the harvest, it’s the maltsters turn… Many grains are used in making whiskey, especially now that so much experimentation is being done to create craft whiskeys.  They can all be malted, but no grain has the diastatic power (enzyme power to convert starches to sugars) that barley has.  It is called the “workhorse grain” because it is often added to a mash in small amounts just for its wonderful...

What is Triticale Whiskey?

What is Triticale Whiskey?

We know that whiskey is made from grain.  A lot of new micro-distillers, in an effort to try something new and set themselves apart, are creating interesting artisanal whiskeys with odd-ball grain combinations.  Americans have grown comfortable with bourbon whiskey made with corn, rye whiskey made with rye, and malt whiskey made with barley.  But triticale whiskey?  What is that? Triticale is a hybrid of rye and wheat.  Rye is booming on the whiskey market today. (Rye whiskey is made of at least 51%rye in the grain recipe/mashbill.) Everyone is tripping over themselves to buy a bottle of the wheated bourbon that is Pappy Van Winkle. (A wheated bourbon usually has a dominance of corn -usually close to 70%- and uses wheat as a flavoring grain- usually 16%.)...

What is a Sour Mash Whiskey?

What is a Sour Mash Whiskey?

So what is sour mash whiskey anyway? The term sour mash gets thrown around a lot, but it’s really just a technique used in making whiskey.  It is not particular to any one brand of whiskey.  In fact, most whiskeys are made using this technique. Before you can distill, you have to make the alcohol.  Distillation is just the process of removing and refining the alcohol that yeasts produce in the fermentation process beforehand.   The whole reason that distillers are so concerned with quality of grain is because they want their yeasts to have the best grains that can produce the best food for them to “eat”.  The distiller cooks those grains in a big pot called a mashtun to create a delicious, warm, sugary mash for their yeasts to feast upon.  Those yeasts, when not...

Which Rye Whiskey Should I Try?

Which Rye Whiskey Should I Try?

What ryes are out there and how are they different? I know I’ve talked about this in the past, but I got into a conversation with some folks yesterday about what ryes they should be trying. Many distilleries steer clear of making their own rye because of the production difficulties that rye grain can pose. Rye can be notoriously difficult to work with. Bruce Joseph, head distiller at Anchor Distilling, said, “Rye is a sticky, viscous, mess-a brewer’s nightmare.” It may be a bear to distill, but it makes a delicious whiskey and is only continuing to grow in popularity in the U.S. The original American ryes had high rye mashbills. Farmers in Pennsylvania in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were making their surplus harvested grains into whiskey. Though the...

Why So Defensive About Sourced Whiskey?

Why So Defensive About Sourced Whiskey?

I was asked at the Dram Devotee’s Whistle Pig tasting on Thursday, “Why do you sound so defensive when you are speaking about sourced whiskey?” It must be true that I sound defensive or it wouldn’t have been noted by one of my guests.  I can tell you that a lot of my defensiveness stems from the commentary that I read on the internet.  I suppose I do feel the need to defend those companies that source their bourbons and ryes, but also manage to put out a consistently great product. I’ve seen all the lists of sourced whiskeys from LDI/MGP (Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana/Midwest Grain Products).  (For those that have not seen the list, you can find information here- (http://recenteats.blogspot.com/p/the-complete-list-of-american-whiskey.html.) There is a lot...