Sourced whiskey has developed a bad reputation in the American Whiskey World. It’s often associated with fanciful marketing stories of the far off past, but scarce on any details about where and how the actual stuff inside the bottle is made. Almost the opposite of the independent bottlers you see in Scotland, which often have as large of a reputation as the powerhouse distilleries.
Enter Joe Beatrice and Barell Bourbon. Transparency is the name of the game here. He is completely open about the fact that he is just a blender and bottler. The goal is to create a unique product that stands on its own, just like those Independent Bottlers. And in a world where age statements are dropping dramatically from labels left and right, the age statement is front and center and keeps climbing. And he keeps winning awards.
No sense in bottling it if the whiskey isn’t any good.
Though each batch varies there are two constants. Each bottle is Barrel Strength. This is whiskey straight out of the Barrel uncut by water. High Proof Spirits. The second is the quality. No sense in bottling it if the whiskey isn’t any good. Everything else they can tell you they will.
Batch 6 is 8-year-old Bourbon distilled in Tennessee and aged in Kentucky, which already makes it unique. Joe can’t legally tell you where it’s distilled but with only two large scale distilleries in the state and a mashbill of 70% corn, 25% Rye and 5% barley it’s probably being made at George Dickel. And He recently moved all of their aging to the warehouses at the Old Taylor Distillery, which is different from the old Taylor brand which the distillery doesn’t own the right to. The Bourbon world is weird.
So we’ve got a big ballsy bourbon that has coated ripe dark cherries with a layer of dusty, earthy nuttiness reminiscent of some of the best stuff from Willet and Heaven Hill. It’s a massive flavor that drinks far more mellow than it’s 122.9 Proof would suggest. It’s a great reminder that there’s more to the magic of a spirit than marketing and who owns the still. Sometimes, there’s a magic that needs that outside touch. As long as you’re honest about it.
“Good friends, good books, and sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” ~ Mark Twain
I’d personally add good booze into that mix but starting with Twain is never a bad idea, he weaves a good story. But the problem lies in what kind of story are you trying to tell with your whisky? Are we telling a historic tale? That would start with the founding of the Caol Ila Distillery in 1846. But that’s a little dry.
It could be a business biography. That starts in 2004 with the creation of Alexander Murray. An essential newborn in the world of independent Scotch bottlers they took a different tact. instead of focusing on small, rare bottlings they focused on volume. If you’ve ever noticed that the hosue labeled Scotch whisky at Trader Joe’s and Costco was surprisingly good, that’s because it came from these guys. But business is so impersonal.
Except it’s not. While moving volume, and checking history the gang at Alexander Murray made friends. And that allowed them to grow and bring out more quality under their own label. Take their 8 Year Old Caol Ila. Some may argue that it’s an unnecessary bottling with the quality the standard issue 12 year has. But they’re like two small town friends who move away to different cities. Same underling base, but a heavier oak presence gives this a more NYC feeling bite versus the original delicate, seaside village feel that Caol Ila usually has. But even more than that’s it’s opened their eyes to larger collaborations.
Yet another friend is David Walker, of Firestone Walker Beer. Working together they took 60 barrels used for aging the Firestone DBA and finished 6-8 year old single malt in them for another 3 months to a year. The resulting ‘Polly’s Cask’ is a complex melding of friendships, even just in the character of the whisky. Beer and Whisky are natural friends, and the barrels linking them here started as ex-Bourbon, turned into beer, and then finally into Scotch barrels. If that’s not a sharing between friends I don’t know what is. The result is an exceptionally nutty malt.
Both are a great example of the best times with friends. An everyday encounter, and a special occasion, too. And as I tell my friends all the time, I don’t care what you drink as long as you drink it with me.
Happy accidents are all around us. They often start simple. You wander into a bar, look around, find yourself presented with better than average options, and end up with a glass full of Auchentoshan, which is surprisingly light and delicate, but with enough complexity to be no accident.
Then there are the not so simple accidents. Like the quirks of history that created the style of whisky now swirling in your glass. Auchentoshan is one of the last remaining Lowland distilleries in Scotland, a region with a style as unique as it’s Speyside and Islay cousins, yet wholly unusual in scotch making and is fully created by the accident of it’s location. Founded in 1823 by Irish refugees on the outskirts of Glasgow it’s seen the city rise into an industrial complex, the bygone glory days of it’s shipbuilding and engineering prowess, and is still tucked away in it ‘corner of the field’ watching the trade city grow more
cosmopolitan. All of these pieces come together. The shipping and trade gave massive access to barrels of all kind for excellent aging but more importantly the whisky itself was primed for bigger barrel interaction by the influence of those Irish refugees and their tradition of Triple Distillation. Coming off the stills at a higher proof leaves the raw spirit lighter and more ready to soak in the plethora of barrels floating in and out of the port city.
And then there are the literal accidents. Years ago, the Head Distiller Jeremy Stevens was working on a batch of sherry finished malt. It had already spent time in ex-Bourbon barrels, and had been aging in Olorosso Sherry casks. After the initial dump he felt it need some more time in the sherry wood, ordered the malt to be rebarreled and left for a trip out of the country. When he came back he found that instead of Olorosso it had gone into Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels.Rather than losing his job the distillery discovered one of their most popular expressions: The three wood..
So, the accidents of place, time, history, barrels and communication have granted you a glass of delicate, rich toffee, with candied plums, blackcurrents and a hint of hazelnut. So let’s raise a glass to accidents. May they be few and happy.
Why do we leave the house? Between digital streaming and the sharing economy everything you could ever want is right there or can be delivered at the push of a button. Human socializing has been digitized and depersonalized. Entertainment can, and will, cater specifically to you, and the Internet will connect you to anyone in the world. So, why go out?
I personally like to believe it has to do with experiencing the world. That to bring back a true story to the digital marketplace enriches yourself and the people you’re sharing with. It still doesn’t explain why we gather to drink fermented beverages, laugh, talk, and be merry. Some things are just for fun. But they should still be an experience.
I like to call it the, “You Put On Pants” Philosophy. For whatever reason you decided to get up of the couch, put on pants, and come to the bar instead of watching Game of Thrones reruns. Let’s make it worth your while. Let’s get you something that can’t be delivered straight to your doorstep. In this case with a whiskey you can’t get anywhere else.
“You Put On Pants Damn It”
Buffalo Trace isn’t hard to come by. Even though the brand was only created in 1999 the Bourbon Boom and the fact that it is a quality whiskey has made it a nearly ubiquitous bottle. What makes this ‘pants worthy’ is its single barrel nature. After tasting through several samples we bought all of the whiskey inside of the barrel. The only way to taste this version of Buffalo Trace is right here with us. It has the familiar backbone but with a massive dollop of orange marmalade, a spicier pop and super rich vanilla.
It’s not an earth shattering difference but it’s enough to stay interesting. Both for you leaving the house and us coming into work. This isn’t our first barrel and it’s by no means our last. So, we’ll hopefully being seeing you through several pairs of pants.
What’s in a name? A Sazerac by any other names is a…rye? A cocktail? A Coffee House? A long defunct cognac? Language is a funny thing.
When we say ‘cocktail’ these days it tends to be as a catchall for ‘mixed drink’ but that’s essentially the equivalent of calling all steaks fillets. A cocktail is a very specific type of drink made from spirit, sugar, bitters and water, usually in the form of ice. Or as it’s often called today: an Old Fashioned.
And just like today where you may call for a Elijah Craig Old Fashioned, you would have called for a Sazerac Cocktail, made with cognac from Sazerac-du-Forge et Fils which was imported by the Sazerac House in New Orleans. Being very French the New Orleans drinkers loved to ‘improve’ up their cocktails with just a dash of absinthe and Bam! A Sazerac Cocktail.
But at the turn of the century the phylloxera plaque struck Europe wiping out old vineyards laying waste to innumerable wine and cognac house. As the supply of cognac dwindled, New Orleans drinkers turned to what was readily available to them: Rye Whiskey and gave birth to the Zazerac. Yes, Zazerac with a Z. Language is fun, and by distinguishing the proper names drinkers could quickly indicated whether they wanted the brandy or the whiskey version. Confused? You’re probably not the only one. In the Artistry of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meir published in 1934 he says, “Note. – there is much confusion between the ‘Sazerac’ brandy cocktail and the ‘Zazerac’ cocktail originally made in New Orleans.” So the ‘Zazerac’ name gathers dust while the actual drink gathers steam.
“Note. – there is much confusion between the ‘Sazerac’ brandy cocktail and the ‘Zazerac’ cocktail originally made in New Orleans.”
Time passes and a new Sazerac house rises, this time an American Liquor Company named that owns and distills Buffalo Trace and a myriad of other bourbons, but also an Eponymous Rye Whiskey named: Sazerac. And it’s damn good. Bright, crisp apple, dry rye spice, with a touch of that southern air on the nose. But is it Sazerac? In name only.
In honor of the spirit of the spirit, share a few Sazerac Zazeracs tonight