Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Jack Rose

Flipping through the excellent PDT Cocktail Book, I noticed that a lot of the recipes call for Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy. This product caught my eye because the label reads like a bourbon label in that it bears the "Bottled in Bond" designation.  This means that by law -- the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 to be precise -- it must be aged in a bonded warehouse for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. Although there are several bonded whiskies (Rittenhouse, Old Granddad, Col. E.H. Taylor), this is the only brandy I'm aware of bearing the designation. Unlike the French Calvados I've had, the Laird's is drier than expected with only a hint of apples. It could almost pass for whiskey. In any event, the stuff works great in cocktails and is a steal at $25. 

My new bottle of Laird's Bonded called for the most classic apple brandy cocktail, the Jack Rose. This recipe dates back to Boothby's 1908 book, The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them. The 100 proof Laird's is essential here, as the drink is diluted considerably with the grenadine and lemon juice. About the grenadine, if you can't make your own, try to spring for the good stuff. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. makes a great one (the bottle even has a recipe for the Jack Rose on the side), and I'm sure there are others. The stuff you'll find at the grocery store won't do. For the citrus juice, I go with lemon juice, though some recipes call for lime.

Jack Rose
William Boothby, The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them
Adapted from the PDT Cocktail Book

- 2 oz. Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
- .75 oz. Lemon Juice
- .75 oz. Jack Rudy Small Batch Grenadine

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Sidecar

For me, the quintessential brandy cocktail is the Sidecar. Dating back to the 1920s, there are two schools of thought about the correct proportions for the cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. The original drink was made with equal parts of each ingredient (1:1:1), in what is known as the "French School" style. I prefer the "English School" variation, which appears in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). This version uses a 2:1:1 ratio -- two parts cognac and 1 part each of the Cointreau and lemon juice. Some recipes call for sugar along the rim of the glass. Please don't do that.

The Sidecar
As modified in the Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930

- 1.5 oz. Cognac (Pierre Ferrand or Léopold Gourmel work well)
- .75 oz. Cointreau* 
- .75 oz. lemon juice

Pour all three ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

*For a drier cocktail, use Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Like Al Capone, Templeton Rye's Label May Violate Federal Law

A lot of non-distiller producers (NDPs) source their whiskey, especially rye whiskey, from the old Seagrams distillery located in Lawrenceberg, Indiana called MGPI (it was called LDI until 2011). If you've ever had Bulleit, High West, Redemption, Willett (the younger 3-4 year old stuff), Smooth Ambler, Riverboat, or Templeton ryes, you were drinking MGPI-distilled whiskey. There are plenty of others. MGPI rye is distilled from a very high rye (95%) mashbill and can be quite good. High West, who was early to the MGPI rye party, has released several great whiskies using this rye.

A lot of the NDPs peddling MGPI whiskey have created fanciful stories that they use to market their products. These stories generally bear no relationship to reality. Case in point: Templeton Rye. Templeton's marketing tries to convince people that its rye is a recreation of the prohibition era recipe made in Templeton, Iowa and which Al Capone called "The Good Stuff." Templeton's website spins a tale of Templeton founder Scott Bush convincing a prohibition era bootleg distiller from Templeton, Iowa to give him the 80 year old recipe (only after his Uncle Gus vouched for him), which is what is now sold as Templeton Rye. 

This story is, of course, not true. Templeton Rye is not made with some long lost Iowa prohibition era recipe. It is made with the same recipe that all MGPI rye is made with: 95% rye, 5% barley. Templeton just buys it, ages it, and bottles it.

This type of marketing is troubling. Fortunately, there is supposed to be a sure fire way to determine whether a whiskey is MGPI make. Federal law requires that whiskey list the State of distillation on the label. A regulation of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the U.S. Department of Treasury, requires that "the State of distillation shall be shown on the label of any whisky produced in the United States if the whisky is not distilled in the State given in the address on the brand label." 17 C.F.R.§ 5.36(d). This requirement is particularly effective in identifying MGPI whiskey, since there aren't a ton of distilleries in Indiana like there are in Kentucky. The problem is that Templeton Rye does not disclose Indiana as the State of distillation on its bottle.

Although this is a pretty clear violation of the TTB regulations, whiskey enthusiasts have become accustomed the the TTB refusing to enforce its own laws. That might be changing, however. Whiskey-guru Chuck Cowdery penned this post on Tuesday that the TTB may be looking to enforce the State of distillation requirements. Based upon that post, I questioned on Twitter whether Templeton would finally have to disclose on its label where #TheGoodStuff comes from.

Rather than ignoring me, Templeton defended their practice with the following curious tweets.

So, basically, Templeton's position is that it need not list the State of distillation because (1) it has a distillery in Iowa that distills and ferments alcohol that is not Templeton Rye; and (2) Templeton Rye is aged and bottled in Iowa. These explanations, of course, are specious and not supported by the TTB regs. If the TTB is indeed starting to enforce Section 5.36(d), I would expect Templeton Rye labels to start disclosing that the whiskey comes from Indiana.

Some may find this all to be a little too technical to get worked up about. "If the whiskey is good, who cares where it is distilled," you might say. That may be true, and indeed Templeton is decent, if overpriced, low proof whiskey (though that is a bit of an oxymoron to most whiskey geeks). The larger issue here is that whiskey companies apparently feel that they can intentionally violate TTB regulations with no fear of reprisal. If that type of thing can go on, what is to stop distillers from ignoring other more significant legal requirements like the legal requirements to call whiskey bourbon or rye?

Also, in today's ultra-competitive whiskey market, consumers have a right to know whether they are buying just another MGPI rye instead of unique Iowa-distilled whiskey. And although the Templeton website now acknowledges that the company partnered with an unnamed Indiana distillery to make Templeton Rye, the label does not disclose this fact for one simple reason. A large number of consumers are making purchasing decisions while standing at the store looking at whiskey labels, and Templeton would prefer that people think they are buying Al Capone's favorite whiskey, not sourced whiskey from a bulk producer. And that, after all, is the reason that the TTB labeling regulations exist.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Friday Cocktail: Bufala Negra

Today's cocktail comes to us from Atlanta's own Jerry Slater of H. Harper Station. The Bufala Negra is light and refreshing drink thanks to the addition of ginger beer but picks up a lot of depth from the muddled basil and balsamic syrup. I used real-deal 12 year old balsamic I brought back from Italy, which is totally unnecessary for this drink but worked spectacularly. 

Bufala Negra
Jerry Slater, H. Harper Station, Atlanta

- 1.5 oz. bourbon (I used Old Grand Dad 114)
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 brown sugar cube
- 0.5 oz. balsamic syrup*
- 2 oz. ginger beer

Muddle the balsamic syrup, basil, and sugar cube in a mixing tin. Add bourbon and ice and shake vigorously. Strain over fresh ice cubes into an Old Fashioned glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with basil leaf.

*For the balsamic syrup, combine equal parts balsamic vinegar and 1:1 simple syrup and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool completely.

Bourbon Review: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard

Capitalizing on the global frenzy for extra-aged bourbon, whiskey juggernaut Diageo recently began releasing products under a fictitious moniker called the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. The idea with these releases is that Diageo will put out whiskies from its many operating and shuttered distilleries under different labels within the Orphan Barrel series. Among others, the company owns the famous Stitzel-Weller distillery, which is now shuttered but houses a ton of aging product, as well as the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee. 

The first two releases in the Orphan Barrel series are the 20 year old Barterhouse and the 26 year old Old Blowhard, both of which are Kentucky straight bourbons. They both have the same mashbill - 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley - which means they were probably destined originally for the Berheim brands Old Charter or I.W. Harper.

The presentation on these bourbons is really nice. The Barterhouse bottle features a sly fox that has apparently just made a deal. Old Blowhard has a nautical themed label with a whale spouting water. I will say that in today's environment of ever-climbing prices, both of these whiskies are very reasonably priced for their ages.

Now, to the important stuff.

Price: $75
Proof: 45.1% (90.2 proof)
Age:  20 years
Mashbill: 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley
Color: Deep Amber

Nose: Pleasantly toasted grain with milk chocolate and nuts (like Derby pie). 
Palate: The burnt edges of a brownie pan.  The chocolate sweetness is balanced out by just the right amount of oak.  I would not have guessed this was 20 years old.
Finish: Sweet and pleasant fading into soft, dry oak.

Overall: B+

Old Blowhard

Price: $150
Proof: 45.35% (90.7 proof)
Age: 26 years
Mashbill: 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley
Color: Copper

Nose: The age is apparent right off the bat. Loads of polished wood with faint hints of vanilla and cinnamon spice.
Palate: Very creamy. Heath bar and vanilla custard quickly gives way to dry pencil shavings.
Finish: Long and warming but dominated by bitter wood.

Overall: C

The Barterhouse wins in a landslide. Old Blowhard has the better mouthfeel of the two but is much too woody. Barterhouse, while light, is a nicely balanced whiskey.  It isn't overly complex by any means, but for half the price, I'd buy two of these before springing for the Old Blowhard.