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...

What defines whisk(e)y?

What defines whisk(e)y?

So what determines what whisk(e)y is anyway? Government laws and regulations do. They have changed over the years, but as whiskey becomes a larger contributor to government budgets (through taxes) the government tends to take a larger interest. It is no great surprise that the government would take such an interest. Before Prohibition in the United States, taxes on whiskey alone accounted for 1/2 of national revenue! (There is an argument to be made that Prohibition caused the Great Depression…) Keeping your “native spirit” under domestic control is important not only to maintain its integrity, but also to maintain its tax contributions. There are so many differences in laws relating to whiskey that the only real connection that whiskey has throughout the...

Herman Melville’s Rye Whiskey Reference

Herman Melville’s Rye Whiskey Reference

Today is the day that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published by New York’s Harper and Brothers in 1851. There is a reference in the book that connects whiskey to the color red, which indicates that aged whiskey was the norm in the mid 1850’s and that readers would make the obvious connection. “That drove the spigot out of him!” cried Stubb. “‘Tis July’s immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine today! Would now, it were old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable old Monongahela! Then, Tashtego, lad, I’d have ye hold a canakin to the jet, and we’d drink round it! Yea, verily, hearts alive, we’d brew choice punch in the spread of his spout-hole there, and from that live punch-bowl quaff the living...

What is the Difference Between a Flavored Whiskey and a Liqueur?

I was just speaking to a bartender that wanted to know the difference between flavored whiskey and liqueur. Hopefully, by now, most of us are aware that Southern Comfort (made so famous by Janis Joplin) is a liqueur, not a whiskey. It is “grain neutral spirit, sugar, and a fruit concentrate in which the dominant fruit is apricot.” (Chuck Cowdery) That means it is basically vodka with flavorings. Flavored whiskey, however, is a different animal. By law (TTB regulations), Flavored Whiskey is described this way- -Whisky flavored with natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, bottled at not less than 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof) -The name of the predominant flavor shall appear as part of the class and type designation, e.g.,...

There Were No “Old” American Whiskeys Before 1958…

Did you know that there were no American whiskeys over 8 years old before 1958? Modern perceptions are that older whiskey is better whiskey. That is purely a marketing scheme. Picture the whiskey industry after WWII. The few distilleries that remained after prohibition had been successful with pulling themselves out of a whiskey drought by producing massive amounts of young whiskey and blending older stocks with neutral grain spirits. People were drinking straight whiskey again and the whiskey industry was successful until WWII ended production in order to massively produce ethanol for the war effort. The whiskey monopolies (including Schenley) were experiencing another whiskey shortage due to the war. Jump to the beginning of 1950 and the build up to the Korean...

Proof of Proof? History of Proof vs. ABV

Did you know that “proof” of alcohol content used to be proven with gunpowder? The term proof probably originated in the 16th century. Soldiers had no tools to determine whether their rum was good quality, so they employed the use of gunpowder! They realized (quite ingeniously) that the gunpowder would only light if the level of alcohol content in the solution was 50% or more. Lower alcohol content and the gunpowder wouldn’t light. Higher content and it would light a bit too well! Here was 100% “proof” that the rum was just over 50% alcohol by volume(ABV). This way of determining proof helped to establish the system we use now. The gunpowder test was officially replaced in Europe in 1816. Specific hydrometer readings found that 100 proof whiskey was exactly...

Is Distilling Illegal? Yes.

Is Distilling Illegal? Yes.

Is distilling legal if you’re just making it for personal consumption? NO. It is very much ILLEGAL. I get these questions a lot. Why would they sell stills smaller than a gallon if they weren’t legal? It’s okay if I’m just making it for myself, right? But I’m not selling it, so it’s okay right? NO, IT IS NOT. Here’s the legal info- “You may not produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties. You should also review our Home Distilling page.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that also make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage...

John Glaser of Compass Box

John Glaser of Compass Box

We all know what happens when you insert Scots-Irish folks into American whiskey production. Great American whiskey, of course. But what would happen if you insert an American into Scotch production? John Glaser, of course. John Glaser is a bit of a maverick in the whiskey world. He’s not bound to the tradition-based ways of doing things that scotch production has been. Maybe it’s his inner, rebellious American spirit. (Glaser is from Minnesota) After attending college at Miami of Ohio, he began pursuing a career in wine making. After stints with wineries in Burgundy and the Napa Valley, he ended up on the business side of the wine industry, which ultimately led him to Scotch and Johnnie Walker’s global marketing department. He moved to London and started...