Thursday, January 31, 2008
So after all the excitement of making the post-a-day average, and all the reflection, what do you actually get on my Blog Anniversary? Me, back to work. I'm headed up to Berwick, finally, to check out One Guy Brewing, I'm going to stop in to visit my dad on the way (he's been in the hospital, better now, no worries), and then get to work on rewrites when I get home. Just another day, really. Hey, it's a working blog, okay? I'll show you some One Guy pix later.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
So you should see more of him, too. Specifically, check out his blog over at That's the Spirit.com, where he's just posted the last of five predictions about beer in 2008. The predictions are:
1. Wood-aging increases
2. More malty beers in response to the hops shortage
3. "Chicks Dig Beer" (nice note of my Portfolio column on that, thanks)
4. Premiumization: the trend to trade-ups will continue
5. Higher prices from a variety of pressures
As always, these are nicely reasoned and thoughtful, and make sense. Take a look.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
That said, I do have two new Philly Beer Week events to tell you about.
Monday, March 10th, I'll be hosting an event we're calling "That's Not Belgian!" at the delightful Chick's Cafe. As alert readers know, I only discovered Chick's recently, and loved it. I was there doing recon for this event idea. Chick's has built a beer list different from any in this beer-happy city, and a central feature of it is a core of French, Italian, and Spanish beers, from breweries that are quite Belgianesque in their disregard for traditional brewing...but are not exactly Belgian, either. We're going to pair an array of these non-Belgian beers with food from their respective homelands for a beer dinner that should be like few Philly or anywhere else has ever seen. 6:30 PM, Price TBD.
Wednesday, March 12th will see me headed west, putting the "it's not just Philly" aspect of Philly Beer Week into action: "Philly Area Beer: Yeah, We've Got That. Join nationally-known beer writer Lew Bryson and local beer scene guru, BrewLounge.com's Bryan Kolesar, at one of the hottest new beer bars in the area, TJ's Everyday in Paoli, for a wild waltz through the breadth of beer produced by local brewers. Want Belgian? Got it. German? Jawohl! British? Certainly, dear boy. American craft innovation? Yo,we're all over that. Bryson and Kolesar will lead you through the local harvest with details, suggestions, and brewery stories, while TJ's kitchen supports it all with a grand presentation of their famed cuisine a la biere. 6:30 PM, pay as you go beer and a $25 six-course tasting menu."
(That's what's going up on the PBW website: TJ's Jeff Miller released the beerlist: General Lafayette Red Velvet, General Lafayette Churchill's Mild, Victory Hop Wallop, Victory Prima Pils, Riverhorse Double Wit, Troegs Mad Elf, Stoudt’s Smooth Hoperator, Stoudt's Brewer's Reserve (TBA), Yard’s Love Stout, Flying Fish Love Fish, Legacy Fantasy Ale, Sly Fox Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale, Sly Fox IPA Project (TBA), Weyerbacher Merry Monks, Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre, Monk’s Café Flemish Sour, Lancaster Brewing (TBA), Erie Misery Bay IPA. Not bad...)
And Uncle Jack has confirmed what Triumph brewer Jay Misson hinted at in a comment here: that the Philly Beer Week Real Ale Fest is taking place, but due to site problems, Yards and Triumph will be hosting it together at Triumph Old city, on Sunday March 16th, from 1 to 4 PM. Just in time for you to stroll over there from my PA Beer Brunch at Fork, about a block and a half away.
Incidentally, that Beer Yard calendar UJ's put together is pretty slick; slicker than the PBW site's. Check it out.
But reporter Mark Lisheron puts his finger right on Don with this observation:
Calling Joe Sixpack a beer column is a little like calling Mike Royko's a tavern column or A.J. Liebling a boxing writer. Like all the best columns, Joe Sixpack is about people and place. "He tends to tell Philadelphia stories that just happen to be about beer," former Daily News Editor Zack Stalberg says.I'll admit: when Russell got his gig at the Daily News, I was jealous. 'Another damned staffer who thinks he can write a beer column because he's had a couple Belgian beers,' I probably said, or something like that. But I read the column every time it came out, and after a while, I realized the same thing Lisheron did: Russell is a story teller, and a good one. He's got a nose for beer news, and he's got a great way of writing about it.
I was critical at first, but that's been a long time ago now. Don Russell and Joe Sixpack are a credit to Philly, and to beer.
There's no cure...there's no answer.
I'm thinking of that stunningly depressing Joe Jackson song this morning as I read that in addition to the increases and shortages of malt, hops, and glass, barrels are in short supply. The Scotch whisky industry is booming, and that means the price of used bourbon barrels has gone up steeply -- and the price of used sherry casks is just nuts. Coopers are running flat-out, although high prices don't always mean high profits. Barrel-aged beers could get even more expensive.
Like I keep telling people about the hops shortage: don't expect it to get better real soon.
Last week an acquaintance sent me a bottle (thanks again, acquaintance). And partly to balance all the time I've been giving Bushmills lately, and partly because whiskey ought to get its due in the mad rush to 365 posts that I'm doing, but mostly because I just can't wait any longer to open it, I thought I'd give you a note on it.
Jameson Master Selection Irish Whiskey 18 Years Old: A Blend. It's a beautiful bottle, really, slender and curvy without being silly. I love the first gluh-gluh-gluh-glugggguhh out of a new bottle of whiskey, the way it catches on the shoulder of the bottle. The 18 is a lustrous gold dram, sparkling in my nosing glass. The aroma is all about malt, and vanilla, and little teasing notes of flowers, full summer flowers. It's sweet, but not perfumey.
Oh, God, that is wonderful, and just as I remember it. This is such juicy stuff, and there's a definite one-two character to it. There's the first pure rush of malt fire, followed by a splash of sweet nectar, like butter candy melted thin and cool, or maybe the lightest, most delicate caramel top on a creme brulee that you can imagine. Jameson is so distinctive, it is one whiskey I do feel confident I'd pick out in a totally blind tasting.
This 18 Year Old in particular is especially delicious: sweet, soft, lyrical, but engagingly multi-layered and rewarding. It is, as I believe John said, almost flawless. I'm going to hide this one away, for when the very best of friends comes over.
John thinks this might be a big year for Irish whiskey. (Looks like this bottling may be undergoing a name change, too.) In the course of writing a piece for Massachusetts Beverage Business, I learned that Irish whiskey's been growing faster than craft beer over the past few years, and that's saying something. I've really discovered Irish whiskey in the past four years, and it's been fantastic. If you don't know Irish, time to get acquainted.
Done? Well, in the past week or so, Pete's blogged on how binge drinking is down in the UK (and surprise! that decline is getting no press coverage), how boneheads at InBev have driven Stella Artois into the ground (see, Pete, like me, enjoys drinking the occasional Stella and doesn't mind saying so), a great post on taking beer and ourselves too seriously (titled "For Christ's sake, cheer up!"), the upbeat news that Scottish & Newcastle has been bought to be broken up ("It does mean that the likes of Greene King, Fuller's, Wells & Youngs and Marston's are now the largest British brewers. I quite like that."), and the latest, a warning that bloggers are being solicited to write advertorial (thoughtfully tagged with the label "Corporate whoredom").
All in a week. No tasting notes. No ga-ga hand-waving over some new beer from an over-hyped brewery. No bar visits. No pictures of his dog. No re-hashing of other people's postings.
If you're not reading Pete Brown's blog, what the hell's the matter with you?
Monday, January 28, 2008
Marty Jones, who's been pitching Colorado beer in general and the Oskar Blues Canned Beer Apocalypse in particular for quite a few years, asked me if I would take a look at some of the Beer Drinker of the Year resumes, pick my top three choices to pass along to the semi-finals. Sure, I said, and why don't you see if you can fit a can of Ten Fidy Imperial Stout in there with them? Done, he said, and I sat back and rubbed my hands. And waited. And waited. And figured...oh well, I'll just wait for it to show up next month. Then when I got back from Miami, there was a small box at my maildrop, and in it were ten resumes (some of you guys take this beer shit way too serious... congratulations!) and a can of Ten Fidy and a can of Gordon. Jackpot!
So I put it aside, checked the resumes, did work, dealt with The Tooth, and now, tonight, I'm enjoying it. The aroma has burnt malt, sweet malt, some hints of citrusy hop, and a touch of olive brine that I find in imperial stouts sometimes. There's also some graham cracker and a floaty bit of melon, with just a faint hint of the alcohol power in there. Take a hit: a bit sweet for my tastes in an impie, but it's joyous with it, the burnt bitterness is halved by the malt, and the solid bitterness wicks up all the excess at the end.
One thing I really truly love about this beer is that you know it's an ale. Too many big beers are subjected to clean-as-a-whistle fermentation regimes, as if the brewers were afraid of the identity of their yeast. Embrace it!
Most people don't, though, and if you like something you can really sink your teeth into, an impie that's big and bold and bitter, Ten Fidy will do you right.
I know you're probably sick to death of hearing about Baltic Thunder, but hey, it's loose in the real world now: this isn't hype, it's after-action reports. Yesterday we were at a good friend's house to partake of a venison bounty his brother-in-law had brought home. He'd made a pork and venison stew, and a ground pork and venison meatloaf (he's Polish, I think he's got bigosh on the brain, but good on him, it was delicious).
And it just got better when I popped open the Thunder and sent it in after the game. Big flavor of venison, sweet flavor of pork, and multi-talented Baltic porter met and mingled, and I had a big happy mouth full of eats and drinks. Baltic porter, when it's the right one, is right up there with Belgian dubbel and Oktoberfest when it comes to making friends with food.
How long have you been bottling the 16 and 21 Year Olds?
Part of being a distiller is that you're always looking ahead, thinking way ahead. Because if someone from marketing or from sales, or someone from a particular market comes to you and says, "Colum, we'd love for you to develop a 16 year old whiskey," I'll say, 'Yeah, okay, hang on, and I'll get you your 16 year old whiskey in 16 years time.' They're not going to be happy.
So as a distiller, you're always trying to innovate, and your innovation, I suppose, the only people privy to your innovation are the people in the distillery itself. We tend not to talk a lot about what's in the pipeline or what's ongoing. When the whiskey is launched, that's when we like to tell the consumers, to tell the public about it.
For the 16 Year Old, we did a lot of work with port casks. Historically, we've done a lot of work with port casks, and we felt it was time in about 1996. It was launched in 1996. It was a great day at the launch, we brought over -- Well, see, we're the distillers. But a key part of the whole distillation process is the maturation, aging the whiskey in the oak barrels. So we actually brought over guys from where we buy the bourbon casks, and we brought over the family from Jerez, in Spain, Antonio Paez, and we brought over Alex Burmester from Portugal.
We all did a little presentation, we talked about how we distill the whiskey, and the barrel suppliers talked about how they season the barrels for us. So it was like one big family, and I think Bushmills really represents a kind of family-friendly, easy-drinking, easy-sipping whiskey. That highlights the virtues that we see, bringing those people to the distillery at that time. Rather than taking all the credit for what was in the bottles, we were very much helped by our barrel suppliers.
Most whiskey drinkers don't realize how much of the flavor comes out of the barrel.
Yeah. And imagine: each year, we lose 2% volume, so at the end of 16 years, there's 32% of that whiskey is missing when you open it up, just gone, disappeared. It's a similar thing with the 21 Year Old. That was launched five years later, in 2001. Again, we'd done some work with Madeira casks. We felt the Madeira would only take six months to --
Let me backtrack a little. The 16 Year Old spends 16 years in either bourbon-seasoned barrels or sherry-seasoned casks. We take the whiskey out of both cask types, and marry them for six months in a port cask. So we thought, okay, 21 years in bourbon, 21 years in sherry, it'll be only 6 months in the Madeira. Wellll... we found out that with six months, we weren't getting the character and the taste that really was necessary for a Bushmills whiskey.
Let me make sure I have this straight. The 16 Year Old is aged in sherry and bourbon casks for 16 years...each.
Right, 16 years, 50/50. At the end of 16 years, take the whiskey out of both cask types, marry it together for six months in port [wood]. The 21 Year Old is 21 years in bourbon and 21 years in sherry.
Half and half, roughly?
Yeah, yeah. At the end of 21 years, we take it out. And when we were trying to develop the whiskey, after six months we said, let's take it out and see what it looks like. We just weren't getting enough contribution from the Madeira. It took 2 years to get the contribution right.
I'm very sorry that my wife and I weren't able to drink enough Bushmills Cream to keep the brand alive, because we did try. Is it really dead and gone?
Yeah. The decision we took was -- it was a nice drink, but demand was waning. We said, we've got no problem making it, but we need a minimum quantity to do a run, to make it consistent quality. We never really got that quantity, after six or nine months, so we're probably not going to. Plus now that we're part of Diageo, why drink anything else but Baileys, right? And Baileys has come out with the two new flavors, the creme caramel and the mint, and the reception has been fantastic.
Well, I thought I'd ask. There was one question I got from the blog: what actually happened in 1608? [Here you go, Sam...]
That's when we got our first license to distill.
From King James I. It was issued to a local landlord, Sir Thomas Phillips.
He was the distiller?
No, at the time they were trying to get taxes in.
That's what it's always about, isn't it.
Yeah, it's all about taxes. He was issued a license to distill in April, 1608. He was allowed to distill whiskey in the region around Bushmills. It was called The Rowte. That was about a 7 mile radius around Bushmills. So 1608 is an important date for us, with 2008 coming up next year, that's 400 celebrations of making whiskey. We'll have celebrations all over. We got together and had a big brainstorming session with all the markets around the world, see what they all wanted. We put all the ideas into a big hat, and we're just trying to pick out the best. It's going to be an exciting time.
That's about all I have. Anything else I should ask?
Well, I've got some good toasts for you. Bushmills is a good toasting whiskey.
May you be poor in misfortune, but rich in blessings.
May you be quick to make friends, and slow to make enemies.
Poorer or richer, quicker or slower,
may you only drink Bushmills from this day forward.
(Rendell): “We don’t quite enforce in the neighborhood taverns as well as we do in the big hotels and restaurants.”
(Host): “You look the other way, sir?”
(Rendell): “Umm, you can say that.”
There you have it, Pittsburgh: stay under the radar at your local independent tavern!
Sorry. It's kinda funny, but come on: if the tax sucks for the guys at the local tappy, it sucks for everyone. Stop trying to balance the budget on beer-drinkers' backs.
I know I'll sleep better tonight. Whew. After all, if it saves just one life, it's worth it.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Then even that went away, and I felt pretty good, until around 8:30 Friday night, when it started to hurt. By 9:00, it felt like someone had cut the cord off a lamp, frayed out the ends, and stuck the live wires into my tooth. I gobbled ibuprofen, and went to bed. I got about three hours of iffy sleep. Got up, left a message for my dentist, and screamed -- literally -- everytime I hit my tooth on something. Like when Penderyn, who was cuddling on my lap, leapt up and cracked me on the chin as he bounded off to greet Cathy. Man, did that hurt.
But Cathy was bearing gifts, drugs that my dentist had called in to the drugstore: penicillin and Vicodin. I was skeptical, but he was right: there was an abscess in the tooth, and a day's worth of penicillin has made an immense difference. I haven't taken anything but ibuprofen today, and only one dose of that. (Yes, I'm going to carefully complete the entire course of penicillin, before any medical types write in to chastise me!) I actually feel pretty good in the tooth today, which is good, because while I'm banging away on the old post-a-day average, I'm also editing the next issue of Malt Advocate. It's going a lot better than it was yesterday!
It's not all sherry casks, right?
Right. It's a mix of first-fill and second-fill sherry casks, and some third-fill casks. Your attention has to very high when you use sherry casks, because there's a possibility that you could over-sherry the whiskey, and that's not what we're going for. We're trying to really hone in on the fruitiness, hone in on the light floral notes, the typical house style of Bushmills.
What the sherry casks also give is a lovely softness, and you get this lovely nutty-type sweetness. That's very typical of an oloroso-type sherry, and that's one of the main reasons we use an oloroso sherry cask, as opposed to a fino or any of the other kinds of sherry.
Is there grain whiskey in this? (I held up my glass of Black Bush, severely depleted by this time.)
Yeah, there is. Bushmills Original is a blended whiskey. There's probably a higher single malt content in Bushmills Original then there is in a lot of blends available in the world, from both Ireland and Scotland. But in terms of Black Bush, there's actually a special grain whiskey in it, that's really only made for Black Bush. We do put a small amount of it also into Original. Some of that grain's actually made in a copper pot still, which is a very unusual way to make grain whiskey. It's got a fantastic texture, fantastic mouthfeel, and it's got a character and a taste that, really, we could probably bottle it on its own.
That's what it sounds like...
Well, I don't want to give away too many secrets, but that could be coming down the road, you know?
Well, that's my next question: what's coming down the road?
We've been making whiskey longer than anyone else, we've been making whiskey in the Bushmills area for more than 400 years, and naturally, being Irish, we've been making whiskey a lot longer than that and my God, it just took them a few hundred years to catch up with us.
The history of whiskey-making in the Bushmills area dates all the way back to the 1100s, when King Henry II brought his troops to Ireland. The local spirit, they called it uisce beatha [he says something like "eesh-kee ba'a ha"], that means "water of life." They [the English] weren't able to pronounce the Gaelic, so they started to call it fuisce ["fwish-ke'h"]. That's the modern word "whiskey," just without the 'f'. What I'm claiming is that the 'e' at the end of "fuisce" is very important, because that's the right way to spell whiskey. [Both laugh.] I'm sticking with that story.
[That really was the answer he gave to that question. Later in the interview he specifically says they don't like to talk about what's in the pipeline: guess not!]
The 16 Year Old and the 21 Year Old are both "three wood" whiskeys, is that correct?
Yeah. We have a range. We have the Bushmills Original and Black Bush, obviously, and then we have three single malts --
Which of those is the best seller in the U.S. market, overall, the Original or the Black Bush?
The Bushmills Original. The Original outsells all four of the others combined, it's that popular. I think it's a lot because of its versatility.
Is that new packaging on the Original?
Yeah, yeah. That white label, you put it on a back bar and you'll just spot it right away. That was about 9 months ago [July, 2006], when we became part of the Diageo family. One of the first things Diageo wanted to do was to emphasize a lot of characteristics of Bushmills that were neglected for years under the previous owner. The Bushmills name is more prominent now; it's a name that's synonymous with quality. If you ask people in Ireland what's the best quality whiskey, they'll all say Bushmills. Unfortunately, they'll probably go away and buy something else! What they do is, they keep it for special occasions. Don't keep it for special occasions, treat yourself all the time!
We also have single malts. Single malts are 10, 16, and 21 [Years Old]. You notice the nice light gold color on the 10 Year Old, and if you look at the packaging, it's actually matured in two woods. The light color is a giveaway. Whiskey with a light color tends to be whiskey that's matured in bourbon barrels. You see whiskey from Scotland or Ireland that's a light color, you pretty much know it's either old casks or it was matured in bourbon barrels. Bourbon-seasoned casks don't give up much color to the whiskey, whereas, when you go on to the 16 and 21 year old, they're much deeper in color.
What we do with the 10 Year Old though, we mature, or age, a portion of it, just a small amount, in sherry-seasoned casks, just to give it a hint of that sweetness. But the overwhelming characteristic of the 10 Year Old is like vanilla and milk chocolate; it really is like a melted milk chocolate bar on your tongue, and you get a nice sweet, kind of dry aroma in the back of your mouth on the finish.
A lot of whiskeys are described as being malty, whiskeys from Ireland and Scotland. If you want to pick up what that malty character is like, and what it smells like, you really should nose a Bushmills 10 Year Old Original. It's unmasked by any smokiness, unmasked by any peat, it's distilled three times, so you're really getting back to the grain, the malted barley we use in the first place.
As you know, whiskey's very natural: we only use water, we only use malted barley. We get the extract and ferment it with yeast, and distill it to bring it up from 8%. In Ireland, we bring it all the way up to 85% on the third distillation, and then mature it.
[That's it for now...see you tomorrow...]
New England Brewing has revived under the can-filling hands of Rob Leonard. I remember drinking my share (and more) of the brewery's excellent oatmeal stout and stock ale back in the late 1980s and early 1990s; my first and only tour of the Norwalk brewery in 1993 was when I met Phil Markowski, who was the head brewer at the time. The brewery flailed and failed, Leonard bought the rights and recipes in 2001, and started canning soon afterwards.
Sea Hag IPA was not one of the recipes he bought. That was created in 2006. I realized tonight, as I was casting about for something to post about to make my goal of an average of a post a day for my first year of blogging (you can make up for lost time), that while I've talked about the other three canned beers I took along over New Year's Day -- Oskar Blues Old Chub, and Sly Fox Pikeland Pils and Phoenix Pale Ale, I hadn't said a word about the Sea Hag. Happily I had two cans left in my frigid garage, so bang, done! I popped one and poured it into the slick Budweiser gimme glass I got at the Cheers Conference last week (we got a lot of glasses: this was the only one I didn't leave in the hotel room, it just felt good in my hand...I mean, is anyone surprised that A-B can afford a nice glass?).
Sea Hag is coppery-translucent, which kind of gives you that premonition that it's chock-full of hop-stuff. The nose confirms it: citrus/grapefruit/orange, with a strong underlying juicy malt sweetness. The body's rather light, which I guess surprises me: this is more in the light-framed IPA category where I place Bell's Two-Hearted, but it's not as brisk as Bell's. The hops are definitely bitter-forward, maybe a bit too blaring, but the malt sweetness, even in the light-bodied frame, puts the contrast to it. As we noted in Virginia, the Hag is awfully drinkable, sliding down pretty quickly. And wow, some of the best hop belches I've had in a while. (Don't go "eeeewww!", you know what I'm talking about!)
Verdict: good, even very good, but not great. The aroma's real nice, and I like the light body, but there's just something a bit rough about the way this one integrates. Might be better on tap, and I look forward to trying that. Because, you know, "very good" sure ain't bad at all.
Yeah. Well, they got their 10% "poured drink tax," which was immediately interpreted to include take-out six-packs bought at taverns (I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you). But surprise, surprise, the tax has turned out to be pretty damned unpopular, and opposition is not only increasing, but it looks like there might be a serious shot at repealing the tax.
The group that is coordinating the efforts, FACT (Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation), needs money to keep pushing the fight. They're having a fund-raiser at the Church Brew Works on February 11th, 5:30 to 9:30. Tickets are $40 (available at the FACT website and the Penn Brewery website), which gets you fresh craft beers from the Church, Penn, East End, and the Rivertown Pour House, and -- big guys hate taxes, too -- Blue Moon; you'll also get savory food provided by the city’s best chefs, and local entertainment playing original music, including the "NoDrinkTax Jig" by Terry Griffith. There's also a silent auction of gift baskets planned. Wow...sounds just like the fundraisers at my church, except the beer's better!
I do not know the people in FACT, but if the people at those four breweries are supporting it, that's good enough for me. Besides...$40 for a mini-fest with food and music at the Church, and a chance to shake your fist and thumb your nose at County Council? How can you lose?!
I had a story to do on Irish spirits for Massachusetts Beverage Business for the March issue (of course, when else would you do an Irish spirits story?), and I remembered a press release we got at Malt Advocate for a new Irish cream liqueur, Coole Swan. Always looking for stuff other writers don't get, you know, it makes me more valuable to my editors, so I contacted the Coole Swan people. They're coming to the Massachusetts market in the Fall (Coole Swan is only available in New York for now), so I set up an interview. Pretty interesting people, very experienced, and -- here's the key point -- experienced with Baileys.
Baileys is the iconic brand of Irish creams, the original, and by far the best-seller: it's actually the 7th best-selling spirit in the world. The road behind it is littered with the crushed remnants of attempts to siphon off some of its share of the market. I was skeptical of Coole Swan's chances. But the folks who created the drink are all Baileys graduates who looked at that brand and saw an opportunity; not to come in under Baileys and try to catch people who wanted to pay less for an Irish cream, but to look at Irish cream as a luxury drink, and pitch above Baileys.
They did everything they could to make the very best Irish cream they could: Madagascar vanilla, Cote d'Ivoire chocolate, and single malt Irish whiskey. They put a lot into the design of the bottle, including making it translucent and not at all shaped like a Baileys bottle, which most competitors have slavishly imitated. And there's not caramel coloring: Coole Swan looks like cream. "We bought the best fresh Irish cream we could find," a partner told me, "why would we want to hide it?"
Well, it's all very interesting. But it doesn't mean anything if the stuff's no good. I'll make no secret of it: I like Irish cream. I really liked the Bushmills cream, for a large part because you could actually taste the whiskey in it. So when an unsolicited bottle of Coole Swan showed up in my mailbox (after the story had already been written and submitted), it was right in the fridge pretty soon thereafter. Cathy and I had some when she got home from work Friday. Now that things have calmed down a bit on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd take the leisurely chance to write about it.
It is just a touch on the tan side of cream, I assume from the chocolate (and it is real chocolate and cocoa, I was assured, not flavors). The aromas promise just what you read and just what you'll taste: whiskey, vanilla, chocolate, and a creamy milkiness. When you sip, you find out that they weren't kidding about the whiskey. It has not been cleverly hidden; they're proud of what they're putting in here and the whiskey is bright and vibrant in the cream. But the cream's there too: it's rich, and chocolatey, and coats the mouth without being disgusting. And it most definitely does not taste fakey at all.
I'm not going to drink Irish cream every day, or even every week. But when I do want one, I'm going to reach for this till it's empty, and when I'm next in New York, I'm going to make sure there's room in my bag to bring one home: prices are running around $25.
I'll be using this for quick stuff. Mostly, to start with, STAG is going to be a place to start up my Session Beer Project (more on that shortly). So I'll be doing a lot more quick tasting notes and short rants, as that hits me. It's going to be as informal as "The Latest" is...okay, was on my site, when I was keeping up with it. The idea for the blog is short, sharp, and frequent writing. I want to keep up on local stuff, too: local to southeast PA and the adjoining states. I dropped the ball on local news last year, and I want to get back up to speed; here's where it's happening.
How'd I do? Pretty well, so far.
Session Beer Project: currently a bit low, but the SBP was definitely a success, with mentions in several publications (notably the recent Imbibe article on session beers and in Eric Asimov's New York Times blog, The Pour) and great response from brewers and drinkers. I've committed to revving that back up, and you'll see that.
Tasting Notes: Over 50 beer and whiskey and cider notes posted so far, and I'm falling into a new format for them -- I call it "The New York Review of Beers style -- that I like. I'm going to get the "tasting note" tag on all of them, too, so you can -- if you want... -- find them easier. (Did that, and there turns out to be 71, counting the ones embedded in other posts.)
Short rants: could do better on this one. I'm happy with the ranting I've done, but I could do more.
"The Latest": Probably the most successful part of the blog, I've posted a lot of bar and brewery reports. Probably the most annoying part of the blog: I've been bad about completing multi-day trips and visits. I'll work on that.
Local news: Better, but I'm still working on that.
What I would like to do, and it's a bit quixotic, is get 365 posts on the board before January 30 is over, to bring my average up to a post a day. This is post #349, so I've got 16 posts to do in four days, while keeping up with a fair amount of scheduled, paying work. Certainly doable...the hard part is making them worthwhile! Expect some long-delayed tasting notes, the completion of the Colum Egan interview, and -- with luck -- some site reports.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
I took a couple six-packs of Old Chub (always delicious, full, malty, sweet, wonderful), a bottle of Balvenie 25 Year Old (which we didn't get to, dammit), a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye 23 Year Old (which I found I liked more than last year's 21 Year Old: woody, but still quite spicy, and possessed of a minty coolness), and a standard bottling of Glenlivet which I'd obviously let sit, never opened, way too long -- I opened it to use in a Honey and Whiskey Cake to take along, and the cork just crumbled. Okay, I stuck a wine stopper in it, and sat in on the table at the dinner and said, 'ye mus' drink it all!' That's Scottish, and that's nae crap.
It was an excellent time, and made up for missing the Burns Night at Sly Fox last night. We tasted a six year old mystery malt from 'a Lowland distillery' (it's a Signatory bottling; anyone know if this is Glenkinchie or Auchentoshan? I was guessing Auchentoshan), a 10 yr old Auchentoshan, and a 10 yr old Glenkinchie. I also got some of the Tuthilltown Hudson Baby Bourbon 4-Grain, and...I think I'll wait till production has been going on a while longer before trying it again.
The main opinion I shared with our hosts is that we should get together to drink a dram or four more often; the typical reaction to a Burns Night dinner. Now...to execute on that...
And yeah, in this case, "unself-conscious promotion" was a good thing. Cask Brewing Systems, the company that introduced small-scale canning lines, deserves credit for making it possible, but Oskar Blues kicked it over the top by launching the marketing campaign they call the Canned Beer Apocalypse. It pays to recall that Katechis became aware of the new canning technology by reading an advertising brochure from Cask.
We have got to get over the idea that advertising and promotion are bad things. Like other examples in the Craft Beer Revolution (lagers suck, big breweries always make sucky beer), dumping on those who advertise is an overreaction to the deep bias against the Cerberus of macrobrewing, the BudMillCoors Juggernaut. Jim Koch dared to market and was reviled for it.
We, the geekerie, still don't seem to see the need for it. "If you brew it, they will come" is our simple watchword, but it just ain't so. I remember Chris Trogner at Tröegs telling me in 2006 , "We've been here for 9 years, and we still get people in on Saturday tours, people from [the local area], who say "Oh, hey, a new microbrewery! When did you guys open!" They didn't even know we were here." Tröegs is in plenty of local bars, available at all the local beer stores.
People aren't stupid, but neither are businesses that advertise: advertising works, if only to make people aware that you're there. There's good advertising, and there's lies on wheels. It continues to frustrate me to see the geekerie dismayed when they see ads from micros...although given their small slice of the market, you wouldn't think it would matter.
Thing is...the geekerie and their opinions do matter. I have pointed out how small a percentage of craft beer sales come from the dedicated geekerie, I have decried their demands that brewers brew more big/extreme beers as unreasonable, I have questioned the impact of online "reviews" and complaints. I'm right, but I'm wrong, too.
The geekerie do have an impact on craft brewing; it's real, it's constant, and if anything, it's growing. The reason is simple: who owns craft breweries, who runs craft breweries, who makes the craft beer? Geeks. Not all of them, for sure, but mostly, these are people who got into this biz because they love beer in a strongly wacky way. I know I did, and I know that most of the people I interview did.
So when I say that geeks only buy a small percentage of total output, that geeks' opinions are just those of a tiny part of the market... it's correct, but it overlooks the strong influence exerted through moral persuasion. Geeks are the reminder to the brewer of the kinds of beers they should be making to stay true to their passion. They are the voice of conscience, that may, at times, go over the top, but is always there to remind you of what you want to be.
And they appear to like craft beer in a can, so I guess it passes the geek test.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I did the presentation, it was well-received (the tasting went well, except for the few people who over-analyzed and decided that I'd actually put out three glasses of the same beer), and I felt pretty good. I went to Steve Beaumont's seminar in the next session; he'd attended my 9:00 session. He had a fresh look at promoting the idea of food and beer pairings that had a lot of folks taking notes, including me.
After we partook of the free conference lunch (What's lunch today, we asked the waitress: "Meat. I'm pretty sure it's meat."), I proposed that we catch a cab over to Miami Beach and visit The Abbey, a kind of contract-brewed brewpub: they have their beers brewed for them at a Florida micro, have done so for years, at three different breweries. Patrick Jones, the brewer at Triumph Old City, used to be the brewer at the Gordon Biersch here in Miami, and told me about The Abbey and their big beers and the hours he used to spend at their small, comfortable bar. He made me promise I'd go, and he made it sound real nice, so we did.
After a harrowing, nonconfidence-inspiring cab ride through rain and over bridges, we arrived at Abbey. It was indeed a small place -- the picture at the left shows about 2/3 of the place, and the rest of it is one table and the keg cooler (short runs on the taps, too). The only other person in the place was the bartender, Aaron, who got us two glasses of their IPA (Maggie had a glass of cabernet that she declined to finish). It was...okay. Drinkable, but some mineraly funk going on.
We decided to switch to the Imperial Stout: good call. This was definitely better, real nice, actually, with real ale fruitiness to it, big body, and some of that burnt bitterness I like in an Impie. I got a glass of "Brother Aaron's Quadrupel" after that, which was quite big, and maybe had a touch too much sour edge to the fruitiness -- but maybe not. I liked it, and happily finished it. Then we had a lighter round: I got a Kostritzer, Steve got a Spaten Ofest. Maggie was happily plugging away at the bottled Strongbow she'd found on the menu, and had demolished two chicken empenadas.
We were enjoying ourselves in a place that Aaron reminded us was emphatically not "Miami Beach." Indeed, not a club atmosphere at all. As he said, if you blacked out the front window, you'd never know you were in Miami Beach, the place felt more like a Chicago or Philly bar. We relaxed, we drank, we rattled on about how rambling beer people tend to be when telling stories -- and interruptive, too: I think all three of us were in the middle of telling a story at one point -- and how that's what people want to hear from us: stories, stray interesting thoughts, that kind of thing.
Eventually we had to go. We walked up to the corner, and after I'd done a really stupid thing at Dunkin Donuts that almost got me a stop-and-search from two Miami-Dade cops, we grabbed a cab and had a much quicker ride back to the hotel. We met back in my room, and then went down to the cocktail party. We drank some delish cocktails, ate more "meat" (okay, it was actually really good tenderloin, chorizo, and crab cakes), and talked some business and pleasure. It was good to finally meet the Cheers staff after writing for them for five years.
After that, Steve and Maggie and I went out to dinner -- we were amazed to get the same scary cab driver we'd had that afternoon -- that led off with some delicious raw Blue Points. More fun, and then we went back to the hotel, end of the day. Great time, overall, fun town, if a bit tough to walk in. Thanks to Cheers for the opportunity.
But you know what? We never did get to any mojito bars. Dammit.
We hate going dry, so I hustled up some ice and Stephen dumped in some beers he had along for tasting. I sipped some Michael Collins Irish whiskey while we waited for them to chill -- it was the blended, and it was fine tasting stuff; like Stephen said, I was prepared to not like Michael Collins for a variety of political reasons -- none of them Irish, but let's not go into it -- but it's too good to not like.
Anyway, one of the beers he brought down was Full Sail Slipknot Imperial IPA, a new beer in their Brewmaster Reserve series. It was fully assertive, if not aggressive. The hopping was solid, but more full than edgy, if that makes sense: it was a swelling full current of hops, rather than a slashing whack of hops, a juggernaut of hop flavor without being a beast of bitterness. It was also quite drinkable, and -- not to brand it with a word that seems to be the kiss of death for a certain class of beer geek -- mightily balanced for an IIPA. I mean, a battleship is balanced, right? So's Slipknot.
I found myself wishing he'd brought another bottle. Or two.
First off, I am not doing the Main Line Beer Tour. I'm disappointed, but we just couldn't pull things together in a timely manner: there's a lot involved in a multi-stop tour. Next year: better planning, better ideas, better event. If you saw the event and planned to attend, I apologize.
What I am doing starts on Saturday, March 8th. I'll be hosting a Breakfast of Beer Champions, an all wheat beer brunch at the renowned Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philly. That starts at 11 AM. So far the only thing that's definite is syrup for your pancakes made from reduced Victory Moonglow...but I think you'll agree that it's a hell of a start. Price: pay as you go.
That night I'll be presenting "Porter v. Stout: a bright dark line" at the Tria Fermentation School. I'll be taking everything I've learned from reading Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell's excellent blogs and spreading the New Word on the evolution of porter and stout, the differences between them, and generally celebrating the differences and diversity of the spectrum of dark ales. Starting time is 6:30 -- plenty of time to get in a little education before heading out. Price: ticket, TBD
Sunday March 9th will see me back at the Grey Lodge for an Upstate Beer and Game Dinner. Scoats has found a source for game, which we think will make a great pairing and match-up for beers from an array of small breweries from upstate Pennsylvania that only the author of Pennsylvania Breweries could bring you. Price: ticket, TBD
I'm working on putting together an event for Monday night ... more about that later this week. Should be fun, at a venue which has been slipping in some very interesting beers under the Philly Beer Radar.
I may or may not have an event Wednesday: again, more later.
Thursday is a big night for you fellow fans of lager: Executive brewer Jay Misson and I are putting together a big Pilsner Gala at Triumph Old City. We'll have at least two pilsners from Triumph, including their luscious Kellerbier, at least one pilsner from Sly Fox, Victory, and Troegs, and Carol Stoudt said she'd try to get us a special keller version of Stoudt's Pils. That's what we've got so far...we're working on more. While you delight in the astonishing variation in this vastly under-regarded beer type, feast on authentic German schmankerl, the beer hall snacks we love so much. This will run from 6 to 10 PM: pay as you go.
Friday I'm staying home to watch my daughter in her school play. Any brewers or distillers want to donate anything for the fund-raiser?
My last event is Sunday the 16th: an all-Pennsylvania beer brunch at Fork. Naturally I'm excited to be doing a beer event at one of Philly's top restaurants. I hope you'll be able to join us before calling an end to your Philly Beer Week; we start at 11. Price: TBD
That's what I have so far. I hope to have at least one more event, hopefully one in the suburbs. Please remember: this is Philly Beer Week's first year. We hope to have more people and more venues involved next year, and we will inevitably be more organized next year. Figuring out all this stuff the first time is tough, and we're learning as we go. I hope you can join me for at least one of my events; please contact the venues for more information about times, places, and costs.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
So then I hiked a ride down into Miami with my luggage -- a nice rollie duffle I got from the Red Cross for donating platelets -- looking at all the high-rises and cranes. Man, this town is growing! I got to the Hyatt Regency, checked in, and registered for the Cheers Conference. The conference is an educational thing, not a trade show, so there was no big vendor room: it's all seminars. I got my badge and went right into a session on up-selling; a statistical marketing info session, on why people did or did not order more expensive drinks. Some interesting insights, but I kept wondering who the people were who'd been surveyed; they came up with some dopey answers.
After that, I went up to my room and practiced my presentation: "Make Every Beer Count: Pleasing the new beer customer." It's about looking at beer as a set of categories, rather than as clumps of brands, how to get more choices into the same cold storage space. Hope they like it when I present it in a couple hours.
At 6:00, they made awards presentations to businesses, and opened the cocktail lounge. I grabbed a quick glass of Stella ("Oh, for a camera; Lew drinking Stella," says Stephen Beaumont when he saw me with it), followed that with a Michelob in a gorgeous thin-walled pilsner glass, and then had a Ward 8, an old classic cocktail, updated with a dollop of pomegranate molasses: quite good. Then it was a healthy-tasting beauty made with the new Rangpur gin, key lime juice, and champagne, topped with mint and cucumber -- at least, I think that's what it was. It's not that I was getting tipsy, it's that there were two very similar cocktails being made, and I'm not sure which one I got: it was very loud and crowded. That's why I stepped outside and sipped this last one while looking at the two big motor yachts tied up at the hotel's quay: hired by Red Bull and Leblon as floating parties. I didn't go on board, just watched the beautiful people and called home.
At 7:30, I joined the Cheers magazine staff and a couple other freelancers for dinner. They took us to VIX, the restaurant at the Victor Hotel in South Beach. Very nice, very interesting, but so dark we were reduced to passing around flashlights to read the menu. Wow, got some good stuff, though. We shared some apps: tuna tartare, lobster ceviche, and foie gras ice cream. Really. It came interleaved with mango syrup, and it was so good I laughed out loud: Wow! Dinner was delish: lobster and Hong Kong duck chow mein, with the freshest damned bean sprouts I ever had. I finished up with a glass of tawny port for dinner. What a great day and night. Cheers, Miami.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Don't wait up for us.
NE Pennsylvania’s newest brewery to open SaturdayCongratulations, Guy!
BERWICK, PA (January 21, 2008): One Guy Brewing Company, located at 328 W. Front St., Berwick PA 18603 will host its Grand Opening on Saturday January 26th. The “first keg”, a traditional German wood barrel, will be tapped at 1:00 pm.
One Guy Brewing was founded by beer industry veteran Guy Hagner. The name reflects the nature of the operation—from Brewmaster to Glass Washer, Hagner is the sole employee. “This business is a dream come true,” states Hagner. “My main focus is to brew a wide variety of fresh, delicious beers for local beer lovers.”
The brewery is very small—2 barrels (62 gallons) per batch, and initially all sales will be conducted through the brewery’s on-site taproom. Customers are able to enjoy a glass in the taproom and can purchase a growler (1/2 gallon refillable bottle) of brewery-fresh beer to take home.
Welcome to blogging, Jack: see you at The Session.
I get the same thing in my wife's state fair-winning molasses cookies (really, they were, she was in 4H). Your basic molasses cookie is good, but the small dose of salt in hers makes things all the more so.
If you're waiting for me to turn this into something on beer or whiskey, I don't have it. I was eating a chocolate pretzel, and thought about how the salt contrast works with Cathy's molasses cookies too, and here we are. Maybe there's something about how the bitter and sweet in beer work, or the sweet and tannic components of whiskey come together...but right now? I'm just finishing up my pretzel.
We found a spot on Wayne Ave. right in front of the Wooden Iron...had to be fate. I whined until Cathy and Curt agreed to go in for a pre-prandial drink. I got Redbreast, Cathy got a glass of a very nice Shiraz, and Curt got a Hoegaarden, and we talked with the bartender, Dave, an old friend from his days at Gullifty's. Dave's going bold next month: he's going to replace his whole tap selection with "all Victory, all the time." Five or six Victory beers will be the draft beers at the Iron. Ballsy. Dave said his wine and spirits sales have reached the point that even if the Victory experiment is a crashing disaster, he'll survive.
On to Teresa's, where we met Matt "Beer Yard" Guyer -- we'd called him from the road and invited him up to join us for a beer. I was determined to stick to that New Year's resolution, and ordered a Green Flash IPA (Stan? You see this? Green Flash IPA, Stan). It was everything I've come to expect from this beer: breathtaking, assertive, clean as fresh snow, and whip-sharp with classic American hops, piney, pungent, almost puckery, but with enough malt background to keep things lucidly drinkable. I'm not really a big fan of shipping beer all over God's green earth (I'd rather be shipping me all over to drink it fresh), but they can send this East any time they want, and thanks.
What to have next? There were several American IPAs and Double IPAs vying for my attention, but Matt suggested the Ridgeway IPA. Ridgeway is a Dan Shelton import, probably best known for their series of Christmas beers with the whimsical labels: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, and Santa's Butt. Dan's a wild man, and brings in a number of wild beers -- Cantillon, EKU 28, Fantom, Kulmbacher Eisbock -- but he is a fervent champion of smaller, balanced session-type beers -- he has a special love for the insanely drinkable lagers at Mahr's, for instance.
Ridgeway falls in that latter category. I got a taster of this 5.5% IPA (which was the original Bad Elf, re-tooled a bit) and said yeah, pour me a full one. Oh, mama. What a beautiful beer. The balance was perfect: nothing tongue-stripping here, this was just a great beer, very drinkable and flavorful, with none of the diamond-edged hop character of the Green Flash. Ridgeway's hop character is English: spicy, floral, restrained but firm. The malt's wonderful, jazzed up by yeast character, not too heavy, just tasty and fresh. I had two pints.
We got dinner (drunken mussels, quail, a revelation in the form of seared foie gras (Curt, a confirmed non-hophead, got another Shelton beer, Cantillon Kriek, and the sharp acidity of it was a perfect foil for the goose fat), a Cuban sandwich, a duck breast and Serrano ham sandwich, and a cheese plate), and with all the beers it set us back quite a bit, but...a good deal for the experience. Two outstanding beers, great company, delicious food. A night well spent.
Friday, January 18, 2008
If there's a hop shortage -- and there is -- screw it: I am going to grab all
the super-hoppy beers I want and can get. Hopheads who got all defensive when I
talked about hoppy beers being simple? Pile on, I can take it. Just don't get
between me and the IPA taps.
So when I wanted a beer this afternoon (and I did, because when I interviewed Jim Koch about the new Samuel Adams Irish Red the booger taunted me that he was drinking a beer, and why wasn't I?) I reached in the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Tröegs Nugget Nectar, the beer that the Trogners insist isn't an IPA, but an imperial amber ale.
Okay, whatever. Mostly, it's hoppier than blazes. It's like grapefruit pith, it's piney, it's...okay, it's got a kind of cat's piss smell that's weirdly appealing. I can't believe I'm going to leave that in, but I am, because it's true. The amazing thing about this beer -- one amazing thing about this beer is how the bitterness doesn't hook into your tongue and linger forever: it's like wasabi, it hits WHAM and you stagger a bit, and it's gone. Which means it's time for another swallow, another mouth-squeezing taste, a blast of lupulin freshness -- hmmm, the cat's piss is gone -- and that's the other amazing thing about this beer: it's bitter, it's jam-packed with flavor, it's ... gone. Way too drinkable, which ain't a bad thing, just something you have to keep your eye on.
Scared of the hop shortage? Get as much of this as you can and stop worrying.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
This is not for everyone. Irish reds are generally approachable beers, but this is perhaps too much for some. I say that because Cathy didn't care for it. I thought at first that it was the caramel malt, but after hearing what she said -- it's got that English taste I don't like -- now I'm not sure if it's the malts -- I think English malts are distinctive -- or the EKGs, which I just love. Cathy likes PNW hopping, crisp, piney, citrus, and this isn't that, not at all. She also likes malty beers, but usually more on the lager side. This Irish Red has a fuller body than most others I've had, and I like that, kind of a bridge towards Fuller's ESB in a weird way. The caramel might be overdone, but that's a defining characteristic, so that's like saying hops are overdone in an IPA, and, well, you can't say that in this country, right?
But this isn't Cathy's blog! I like this one, and encourage you to try it. Should be a good food beer with pork, chicken, and lighter fish; cheddar/Lancashire cheese, and nuts; pears, too, probably.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
It's a quote from The Sound of Music, where the Mother Superior of Maria's convent is telling her that there are many ways to serve God, so when one path is closed, it doesn't mean you can't continue on your journey. I thought about that on Friday when I was talking to a booze analyst about the imported beer market. It's for a story I'm doing for Cheers, so I won't get into the numbers, but I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that exchange rates are hiking the U.S. price of most imported beers.
Along with the well-publicized rise in the price of hops and malt -- which is pretty much world-wide -- lower values of the dollar vs. the Euro and other currencies mean that beers from Europe, Asia, and yes, Canada, cost more than they did a year ago (wonder if that's affected the price of Blue Moon, which MolsonCoors is currently brewing in Canada?). If you want to buy a fine Belgian ale, a crisp Bavarian lager, or a big bottle of Unibroue, the price curve on your decision will be steeper. From Heineken to Salvator to Rochefort 8, import beers are bound to take a hit in sales, particularly with all the election year scare-talk about a U.S. recession (Congress and Bush are talking about a "stimulus package" before we've even seen any evidence of a recession -- not that either party is pandering or anything).
But if that door to brewed Heaven is closing, surely a window is opening for craft brewers and the Big Three (maybe even Pabst and the remaining regionals). Increased costs in hops and malt may mean price increases -- okay, it does mean price increases, and we're seeing them already -- but the foreign brewers have to add that increase on top of the exchange rate premium. American beer becomes more competitive, more attractive.
We're already seeing that in the majors: mainstream premium beers like Budweiser, Coors Banquet, and Miller High Life are all up, the first major uptick for them in years. People are starting to look at the price of a sixer of import lager, and of a sixer of Bud (and maybe thinking about the latest ads from Miller and A-B, which are hitting themes of solid value, 'regular guy' appeal, and even patriotism), and picking up the American beer.
Don't dismiss that factor in specialty beers. I expect to see more traffic in American-brewed versions of Euro-classics -- assuming American brewers continue to get better at brewing them -- and more experimentation with 'American' styles by both brewers and consumers, maybe backing off the extreme hops or at least moderating them. But I also think we're going to see even more solidification of flagship brands by craft brewers, as people 'hunker down' a bit to ride this out.
Make no mistake: the people who read this blog and the ones over there to the left, the people who read and post on BeerAdvocate, ratebeer, and Real Beer, you there, reading this right now, are probably going to be more likely to keep on spending to get what you want...but not all of you. And remember: craft beer is still under 4% of the total sales, and we the bloggers and readers, the folks who drink 400 different beers in a year, are just a tiny niche in that niche.
Look at the numbers. Most craft brew drinkers are drinking Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire Amber, Harpoon IPA (and Blue Moon Belgian White, if we're going to be honest and look at this in terms of "craft" styles). That's where the sales are that are getting us even close to 4%. I think things are going to shift even more towards those brands, because they'll have the steadiest prices and the most consistent product. Experimentation tends to go down when prices go up. Flagships will do well.
Which is probably a good thing. Those flagship brands will keep breweries alive till the hops and malt thing either sorts out or we get used to it. In the end, I think this is going to be a time of opportunity for American brewers large and small. It's a matter of reading the winds and the currents and deciding how to set your sails to catch the best breeze...while staying off the rocks and shoals.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Colum Egan: Maturation is very important at Bushmills. We'll use a cask about three times. As you can imagine, each time you use a cask, the contribution from the wood to the whiskey is declining. After three times, I feel that the contribution is not appropriate, not sufficient. Other distillers are different, they'll use it four, five, six times, but I just think, myself...well, I would say it, but we always say that our attention to detail is second to none at Bushmills.
It's not just me. I'd like to take all the credit, but I just can't. The people at Bushmills are just fantastic. I've worked a lot of places, New York, Dublin, London, and really, the best place I've ever worked is Bushmills. I think I'm enthusiastic and passionate about the whiskey, but these guys just blow me away. If my enthusiasm wanes a bit, I just have a chat with them.
There's six guys that make the whiskey, two per shift. One guy that mashes, actually takes the extract from the barley, and one guy that runs the stillhouse, separates alcohol from water. So over 24 hours, that's a six-man team. The least amount of experience you've got on them is 25 years, and the most is 40 years. So these guys know what they're doing. People ask me, what happens when you leave the distillery? I tell them, well, if they don't know how to make it after 25 years, we're in trouble.
There's some great stories. There's a guy there, Ronnie Brennan, one of the mashmen. He's very knowledgeable, knows every little intricacy that could possibly go wrong. Of course, your knowledge is only tested after perhaps a power cut, or something unusual. That's when you know. If the other two guys run into something on their shifts, they'll ring Ronnie at home. And Ronnie lives just across the road. He'll come in. Doesn't clock in, doesn't tell me he's come in, might spend an hour or two helping them fix the issue with the pump or whatever. He does that totally on his own time, just walks in.
That's the commitment that the guys have to Bushmills. As long as they can see some kind of development down the road, and that's what makes it so much fun to be part of Diageo. We finally have someone who believes in the whiskey, with that same passion that we have. We're very good at making whiskey, but Diageo's very good at actually telling the world about it.
I say, if I can just get people to taste Bushmills, I know they'll drink it. It's as simple as that, and I don't think you can say anything better about a whiskey. Over the years, I've got enough people tasting it, so now I've got people drinking it.
The grains that go in the whiskey: what are you using? Is it all malt?
There’s three types of whiskey made in Ireland. That's a very important point, I think, that a lot people miss, even whiskey writers who know a lot about whiskey. There's malt whiskey. Malt whiskey's what we make at Bushmills, it's made from 100% malted barley. There's a second type of whiskey called pure pot still whiskey. Pure pot still whiskey is made from mainly raw barley, with just a small amount of malted barley added to it.
That's added in the still or in the mash?
That's added in the mash, right in the mix. You need the malted barley for enzyme conversion of the raw barley. Then the third type of whiskey is grain whiskey. Grain whiskey is made through a continuous, column still, whereas malt whiskey and pure pot still whiskey are made in a copper pot still.
What's going into grain whiskey?
The grain [whiskey] in Ireland is actually made from corn -- we call it maize -- where in Scotland, they tend to use wheat. It depends what's available, it's really kind of traditional things. That's not to say that in Ireland we won't make grain whiskey from wheat, that's not to say that in Scotland they won't make grain whiskey from corn, that's just, at the moment, what they make it from.
What is grain whiskey? We're not talking about grain neutral spirits?
No, no. There's a very critical difference between grain whiskey and grain neutral spirits. In Irish whiskey, and Scotch whiskey, I think it's 94.7, I'd want to kinda look that up and confirm that to you, but I think it's 94.7% is the maximum strength that you're allowed to go to, of whiskey. Anything above that, it comes into grain neutral spirit, it comes into the whole vodka territory. Really 97% is about the highest you can go; the higher you go, the less color, the less flavor you get.
There's no room for it.
Yeah. Grain whiskey tends to be very bland, really. It's sweet, but it tends to be bland. It's not as complex, it doesn't have the different aromas you'd get from a whiskey made from barley, or whiskey made in a copper pot still. The copper really has a big influence on the whiskey, and the shape of the still has a big difference on the whiskey.
So you have the three whiskeys we make in Ireland. In a blended whiskey, like Bushmills Original, for instance, we take some of the malt whiskey -- because it's only made at Bushmills, it's a single malt whiskey -- and we'll blend it with some of the grain whiskey, the whiskey made in the column still from maize.
Is it blended in aged, or is it blended in straight off the still?
Again, for a whiskey to be called whiskey, it must be aged in the oak barrel. Always, always, always. At Bushmills, our malts are all a minimum of five years, and our grain is a minimum of four years, for the States. So we'll take some of the malt whiskey, and mix it with some of the grain whiskey -- we use the word 'blending' -- so we blend the two together, because we don't want any layering or anything in the vat. We blend the two together, and make a blended whiskey, and that's the Bushmills Original.
Now, you can get other whiskeys in Ireland, from the Midleton Distillery. Midleton just makes pure pot still whiskey. So you'll get brands like Jameson's, and Powers, they're two blended whiskeys, where they'll take the pure pot still and blend in some grain whiskey with it. It's a very big difference, obviously, because there's no malt whiskey in Jameson's, there's no malt whiskey in Powers, it's pure pot still, and it's a very different character.
Malt whiskey is seen the world over as the best whiskey (I suspect that this is not true in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee...), and I really think that holds true, and it's a big point of difference between Bushmills and other Irish whiskeys. Jameson's, you'll find, is a little bit oily in character, a little bit mouth-coating, and I find it a bit green, a little bit grassy. I'm not saying it's young, it's...
It's a flavor, a descriptor.
Yeah. I also think it's a bit unbalanced, but we leave that to everybody (? Did I mention that it was very noisy in the bar?). I always find that a good whiskey will always improve when you add some water to it. If you add water to Bushmills, what happens to it is, the aromas are released into the glass. Your nose is very sensitive: it can actually detect parts per billion, your nose, it's tremendously sensitive, whereas your palate goes nowhere near that level of sensitivity. That's why at the distillery I nose all the time, I rarely actually sip whiskey.
So if you add water to Bushmills, it releases the aromas into the glass and exacerbates, or extenuates the whole tasting experience. Whereas when you do it with Jameson's, it actually kills it flat, a very unusual phenomenon. It really knocks it back, it's a very clear difference.
With Bushmills, you get this nice, light, fruity, spiciness, you get that malty character coming through. With Black Bush, because it's matured in sherry casks --
It's not all sherry casks, right?
Right. It's a mix of first-fill and second-fill sherry casks, and some third-fill casks. Your attention has to very high when you use sherry casks, because there's a possibility that you could over-sherry the whiskey, and that's not what we're going for. We're trying to really hone in on the fruitiness, hone in on the light floral notes, the typical house style of Bushmills.
(Okay, it will not be 10 months before you get Part III!)