“Old Hickory” and “The Hickoryites”

“Old Hickory” and “The Hickoryites”

Andrew Jackson was an interesting character. He was born to Scots-Irish immigrants (most likely landing first in Philadelphia) somewhere between the border of North and South Carolina in 1767. He was an orphan without siblings by the age of 14. His eldest brother, Hugh, died during the Revolution and his other brother, Robert, died of smallpox after he and Andrew had been held captives of the British. You can imagine how losing your family at so young an age would begin to harden the man. Jackson may not have come from wealth, but his years as a frontier lawyer down in Tennessee certainly changed that. He would go on to have a distinguished career as a lawyer, a judge, a politician and a land speculator. His purchase of the Hermitage, his plantation near...

Is Beer More Varied Than Whiskey?

Is Beer More Varied Than Whiskey?

Last night I found myself in defense of whiskey!  A conversation arose about how much variety exists in whiskey and someone said, ”Beer is much more varied than whiskey…”  I found myself arguing how that was not true, but then had a take a moment to realize that most people do not have as much experience with whiskey as they do with beer.  This is due, in part, to the fact that the beer revolution has become a part of the mainstream for bar culture nowadays.  Beer drinkers in metropolitan areas are much more likely to order a foreign beer or a micro-brew than the “standard domestics” like Coors or Bud.  Some will even look down their noses at you if you choose to drink “corporate beer.” The same cannot necessarily be said for whiskey drinkers (except for the...

Pennsylvania and Its Whiskey Rebellion

Pennsylvania and Its Whiskey Rebellion

With the American Whiskey Convention coming to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s whiskey history has been on the brain.  Our most famous Pennsylvanian claim to historic infamy is the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States were in a great deal of debt.  Alexander Hamilton estimated that debt to be around $54 million.  Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury during George Washington’s presidency and he proposed the taxation of alcohol to pay off the country’s looming debt.  The tax called for 11 cents per gallon of spirits.  (To think that that amount of money could pay off that huge debt in a few years just goes to show how much Americans were drinking at the time.)  In 1791, Washington and his new government began to...

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’s the Sweet Spot in Age for Bourbon?

What’s the Sweet Spot in Age for Bourbon?

So I’ve been asked “What is the sweet spot in age for bourbon?” The answer always goes the same way. “The right age whiskey is the whiskey you enjoy.  If you like it young, than that’s the right one.  If you like it old, than that’s right for you.” It’s like answering the question, “Who’s the best artist in the museum” or “What’s the best food on the menu?”  The truth is that the best is relative.  You have to develop your palate and determine which you prefer.  The more you’re exposed to, the better your own understanding will be of  those preferences.  What I can tell you is there are reasons that your bourbon tastes the way it does.  Knowing how age affects your whiskey is the first step to knowing which ones to sample next.   That, and knowing that price has...

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...