Check it: My latest article for the NYT Dining section is online now, and in the paper tomorrow. It’s about the rebirth of the NE rum industry. Lots of history, booze – and a little known fact, namely that you can’t legally make a Dark ‘n’ Stormy without using Gosling’s rum. Who knew? (Aside from all the bars Gosling’s has gone after over the years for using someone else’s rum, that is …) Clay Risen
Last week I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of George T. Stagg, which I won’t be reviewing in my book and so don’t have a compelling need to open *. Indeed, I’ve been collecting Stagg for several years now, and I’ve got a nice vertical of unopened, well-preserved bottles going going. The problem is, I can usually get a hold of just one bottle a year. So every year I’m faced with a conundrum: drink it now and enjoy it, or save it and watch its value grow, but never get to enjoy it?
Collecting whiskey is unlike collecting wine – or much anything else. Wine ages in the bottle, and even the best vintages have their peaks, then start to decline. Vanishingly rare is the bottle that can live beyond a decade. In fact, most wine needs to age, so even non-collectors will sit on bottles for a few years before cracking them open.
Whiskey, however, doesn’t change once it leaves the barrel – stored properly, out of the light, with the seal intact, at room temperature, and upright – it can live for a long, long time, and will taste exactly the same after 20 years as it would after one.
But whiskey is also unlike other durable collectibles, like art or baseball cards. Stare at a Picasso all day, and tomorrow it will look exactly the same as when you left it. But to enjoy whiskey, you have to destroy it. Sip a bottle of George T. Stagg all day, and tomorrow all you’ll have is a depleted bottle – and a splitting headache. Continue reading “Whiskey Collecting, or, For Love or Money?” »
It’s been a while since I posted about a tasting because, well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a tasting. We had, frankly, run out of whiskey, and took a pause to work on some other parts of the book before gathering another crop of bottles. Which we did, a few weeks ago, and now we’re back for the final stretch.
But that’s not what you’re thinking. No. You’re looking at the photo and thinking, “One of these things is not like the other.” Here’s the story: we had some extra time last night, so we figured we’d kill five bottom-shelf bottles: Old WIlliamsburg, Mellow Corn, Bellows, Cabin Still and Old Crow. There’s no theme save the one-liter size of the bottles, and their similar price and quality – though even that varied. The Bellows was one-dimensional, but not at all bad. A solid mixer; it would do well in a Manhattan. The Old Williamsburg, though: stay away. It’s the Manischewitz of whiskey, which is to say that it tries to make up for its awfulness by touting its certified-kosher label. If you need to drink kosher, go with Koval’s Lion’s Pride Dark Wheat or Dark Rye – not bourbons, but they’re also certified kosher, and they’re really good. Continue reading “Tasting: Wednesday, 24 October 2012” »
I consider the basic Woodford Reserve one of the best mass-production bourbons on the market. It’s like a thick down comforter from Target: it won’t win you any cool points, and you know it wasn’t made with loving care by hirsute ex-computer programmers. But damn if it isn’t warm and cozy on a cold winter’s night.
The problem is, Woodford can’t leave well enough alone. Setting aside its Double Oak expression, which is now a part of the regular production line, Woodford and its master distiller, Chris Morris, have a penchant for experimentation. That’s good, in principle. But the experiments, released about once a year, have been almost completely disastrous. Who can forget the Sonoma Cutrer Finish, which tasted like Pine Sol? Or the Sweet Mash release, which seemed like a very expensive lesson on why today’s distillers all use sour mash? Continue reading “New Woodford Announced” »
Back in August I was at Grace’s Plaza Wine and Spirits in Nashville - an exceptional store, with a long row of whiskeys and a overflowing beer room (yes: room). They’ve always got something interesting on the shelf, and this time was no different: several bottles of the 2011 Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye, the last of their allotment from the previous year’s release of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
Given how rare the other whiskeys in the collection can be – I had store owners laugh in my face when I asked for George T. Stagg this year – it was a surprise to find multiple bottles of Handy, nearly a year after it came out. I asked the clerk what was up. He said that people seemed intimidated by a barrel-proof rye – the 2011 edition clocked in at 126.9 proof. Too bad for them, I figured, and bought a bottle. Still, yeah – that’s a lot of spice in one bottle.
Now I wish I’d bought more. This week Jim Murray announced his annual top whiskeys of the world for 2012. And just which expression occupied the top wrung? Why, it’s Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye! (Notably, second place was another Antique Collection expression, and my brother’s favorite whiskey, William Larue Weller.)
Say what you will about Murray’s flood-the-zone, Zagat-like coverage of the whiskey world, but he’s got a preternaturally good nose and an encyclopedic knowledge of the field. He knows his whiskey. For him to pick two American whiskeys for the top two spots, among all the whiskeys released worldwide this year, and to pick two whiskeys that come not only from the same distillery but the same collection, should lay to rest two concerns: a) that American whiskey is overrated, and b) that the Antique Collection isn’t worth the hype. If you find it, any of it, buy it. Clay Risen
Last weekend my wife to let me take a few days’ leave from fatherly duties for a quick trip to Nashville. It’s my hometown, and my brother and his family are still there. Oh, and there is a booming cadre of distilleries across the state: Prichard’s, Collier and McKeel, Corsair and Nelson’s Green Brier, among others.
Of the four, I knew the least about Nelson’s. I knew it was a whiskey sourced from Kentucky, I knew it was getting technical help from Dave Pickerell, and I knew it was getting a decent amount of buzz around the Southeast. So I was happy to get the chance to visit its future distillery space on Friday afternoon, courtesy of Charlie Nelson, who, along with his brother, is one of the company’s two employees. (Full disclosure: Charlie and I went to the same prep school, though not at the same time — which may sound like nothing, unless you went to a Southeastern prep school, in which case you know just what I mean.)
The Brothers Nelson got the whiskey bug a few years ago when they visited the site of the distillery once run by their ancestor and Charlie’s namesake, which churned out a Tennessee-style whiskey in the late 19th century. Apparently it was well-regarded; Green Brier paraphernalia, including bottles, decanters and calendars, are now collectors’ items.
After teaming up with Pickerell, the brothers found a source in
Kentucky Indiana to make a close facsimile of Belle Meade bourbon, one of Green Brier 1.0′s many products (named for Nashville’s toniest of hoods). It hit the shelves earlier this year. In the meantime they’ve been raising capital to start distilling in their new facility, located at the other end of the old Marathon Motor Works complex from Corsair. Without giving too much away, I can report that the Nelsons plan to have a two-year Tennessee whiskey on the market by 2015, while continuing to source Belle Meade; other expressions, all modeled on old family recipes, will follow soon after.
I picked up a bottle of Belle Meade, but haven’t tried it yet — I’ll report back when I do. For now, I’m just happy to see so much activity in my home state, a place that once teemed with distilleries but until recently has been the exclusive domain of Messrs. Jack and George. Clay Risen
If you read enough coverage of a single topic, it’s funny how quickly little journalism quirks become major pet peeves. To wit: I have a Google News feed for “whiskey” – a great resource in today’s fast-moving market. Hardly a week passes without news of two or three whiskey distilleries popping up somewhere in the country. Inevitably, they’re described as “the first whiskey distillery in Manhattan, Kansas” – or wherever – “since Prohibition.” As if readers are supposed to smack their collective heads and say, “Finally! The once-great distilling tradition of Wenatchee, Wash. has returned!”
Just yesterday, the Albany Times Union, no slouch of a paper, ran a piece about “The first whiskey produced in the city since Prohibition by a licensed distillery will be introduced on Friday at the grand opening of The Albany Distilling Co.”
This isn’t a knock on the good folks at Albany Distilling. But I’ve read a decent amount of distilling history, and I don’t recall much about the great booze-making metropolis of Albany, N.Y. No doubt the statement is literally true, and it may be that there was once a distillery somewhere inside the city limits. But seeing as how there were basically no distilleries anywhere outside Kentucky and its neighbors until a few years back, isn’t this angle kind of a non-story? Clay Risen