Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Islay Gears up to use Local Barley

The Laddie Blog based out of Bruichladdich shared some of their strategy for the future today. I have talked before about the importance they place on keeping every stage of the production on Islay (they are the only Islay distiller that bottles on the island and will remain so until Kilchomen comes on-line.) While it is undeniably cool, it is actually an important and integral part of their mission. It is important to me because their world view as it pertains to spirit jives right along with mine as it pertains to bar. When one talks to Mark Reynier, Jim McEwan or Duncan McGillvray, the team that heads production at Bruichladdich, about their whisky, you always end up talking about Islay. Just as when I talk about drinks, I focus on the people behind the spirits. They understand that they are creating more than bottles of booze, but that they are bottling the essence of their home for the world to share. The water (most bottles are 53% water), the air (as the spirit ages it takes on elements of the atmosphere), and now the earth are in there. For those skeptics and naysayers out there, just think about wine. Could you imagine a Burgundy wine-house buying it's grapes from Greece? Sure they could make wine out of those grapes, and probably some interesting stuff at that, but it certainly wouldn't be Burgundy. Well, most of the Scotch industry rely on foreign grain for their production. I find this a little disturbing when considering how much they charge for some of their juice.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

But is it Good for The Vegans?

There was a question on Jeopardy last night about weasel processed coffee beans. My girl B did some research and came up with this.

Nope, no thank you.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Make-Your-Own-Old-Fashioned Bar

I participated again last in SFChefs.Food.Wine in Union Square where I set up an Old-Fashioned bar. Rather than committing to one spirit, I decided to call upon my favorite producers and gather as big an array of whisk(e)y as the bar could hold. In the end I had a full 30 brands.

To compliment all the spirits, I went a little over on the bitters and sugar. In addition to Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's, I brought 8 homemade bitters and tinctures. For sugar I had traditional cubes, Muscavodo, Rapadura, Agave Nectar, Lavender Honey and beautiful Japanese sugar that was light like confectioners sugar but tasted like cane.

I had this selection out front so guests would come up, I would hand them a glass and muddle and coach them through making and old-fashioned. We talked about the options and then I would cut ice chunks while they muddled and mixed. I went over pretty well if i do say so myself.

Keep Walking...

Rowley's Whisky Forge pointed me to a extremely well done short on the history of Johnnie Walker. The style is undeniably perfect as an ad, but I think it is more than a little ironic that Robert Carlyle seems to be walking out in the middle of nowhere at the end, much like the 400 former Johnnie Walker employee who were just laid off from the historic facility in Kilmarnock where the brand began.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Martin Muthagrabbin Cate!

I found the following in my inbox this morning. I hope this tingly feeling lasts all day.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA- Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco’s forthcoming destination for rum and exotic cocktails, proudly announces Eurydice, a new rum crafted exclusively for Smuggler’s Cove. Handcrafted by the artisan distillers of St. George Spirits in consultation with Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate, Eurydice (yur-id-ih-see) is a completely unique rum. Eurydice starts with the fresh-pressed cane juice of 100% California-grown sugar cane. The cane, grown in Southern California, is harvested and crushed at St George Spirits’ Alameda facility where it is fermented with two strains of wine yeast designed to accent the fruit and floral notes of the cane. Eurydice is then distilled in an alembic pot still and aged in two different barrels: a re-toasted French wine cask, followed by a used bourbon barrel to develop subtle vanilla, brown sugar, and butter notes. The final product marries these characteristics to the light, dry, floral qualities of an agricole-style rhum for a unique rum experience.

Eurydice is a 100% California grown and produced artisan product. The name derives from Zerene Eurydice, the California state butterfly. Eurydice was produced in extremely limited quantities and will be available exclusively at Smuggler’s Cove when it opens to the public this fall.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

SFChefs.Food.Wine or What 4 Gallons of Shrub Looks Like

San Francisco is throwing quite a party this weekend and I am tending bar 2 or the 3 nights. I figured since I have been evangelizing the beauty of Shrub so much recently (the house the vinegar built?) that I had to bring some sweet, sweet burn.

What you are looking at is what happens when the forces of nature get busy with:
2 flats of beautiful Strawberries from Capay (I mean friggen BEAUTIFUL)
5 pounds of evaporated cane sugar
1 pound rapadura sugar (funky!)
2 gallons cider vinegar
black pepper
white pepper
Jamaican Sarsaparilla

Sunday, August 02, 2009


I have been having a little bout of fascination with an oddball bottle recently. Death's Door came to my market with their white whisky. My feeling is that this started as a lark. They were putting spirit in barrel, but wanted to see if they could sell some in the new-state (immediate gratification through immediate compensation.) I kind of like this lark though.

This bottle has caused quite a bit of confusion amongst my staff and guests which I really don't understand. When I introduce it, I say that it is whisky that has never gone into a barrel. Invariably the response I get back is, "Oh, like moonshine." For the life of me, I cannot see why unaged spirit is immediately associated with back-country contraband, but there you have it.

Here is the long story:

It is incredibly expensive to start a whiskey operation in America. Say you are really well organized and have a solid design and building team, it will take you a year to build facility. Say you are a genius and experienced at distilling and it only takes you 6 months to get consistent spirit flowing. Say now, you want to be traditional with your aging and release a very young expression at just 2 years old (which is generally not the best use of spirit). That's 3 and 1/2 years of spending money before you can even taste you stuff, let alone sell any. A tough business model by most standards. Even tougher when you consider that the US government essentially taxes the juice as it comes off the still.

So there are 2 routes the new American distiller can go to be viable. They can work out some way to speed up aging, like Tuthiltown (small barrels and sound waves) and Wasmund's (fruitwood chips.) Or they can sell unaged spirit in some form while their whisky ages. Until now this has given us just a wide selection of vodkas (yawn) and gins (yippee.) Death's Door has opened up what I think might be a new, emerging category.
Bring on the New Make Spirits! Christian Krogstad of House Spirits (one of the most knowledgeable distillers we have and an all-around nice guy) gifted me with some of his un-cut 'barley eau de vie' along with a smaller sample of some very young aged stuff a few months ago. The new-make is as grassy as it is grainy and reminds me quite a bit of Rhum Agricole. The slightly-aged is, well, pretty much the same with some color and and vanilla starting to show. Rick Wasmund has started selling his new-make Rye Spirit and even has a DIY age-at-home scheme which is pretty outstanding. There are also a few unaged corn-whiskies out there as well which tend to lean a little more towards the moonshine side of things than the eau de vie of grain side that these rest on. Sounds almost like a 'movement' doesn't it.

As I was writing this, I started to think about Scotland and the Bruichladdich X4. My week at the now-defunct Whisky Academy on Islay revolved around the somewhat dodgy quadruple distillation of this spirit and my class each went home with a flask of it (same sort of grassiness as the House Spirits flask.) I have seen that they are selling the X4 both as new make and as a very young spirit (not old enough to be called Single Malt Whisky yet) in Europe. As it turns out, their neighbors at the new distillery Kilchomen are starting to sell some new make as well. as well Glenglassaugh and Abhainn Dearg.

So now that's 4 from Scotland and 3 from the US with more definitely on the way. I am gonna go ahead and call it, the New-Make category is born.