Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tupper Lake brewpub to reopen

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-41-17-pmFrom the Adirondack Daily Enterprise
TUPPER LAKE — Big Tupper Brewing is set to reopen its brewpub on Tuesday, December 7. Co-owner Jim LaValley said he is finalizing the menu, which will shift to traditional pub fare, and is waiting on the State Liquor Authority (SLA) for approval. He expects the authority to provide a conditional approval this week. ...

Although the company has put much thought into reworking the menu, LaValley said the focus is still on the 14 taps inside the pub, which he expects to eventually have completely filled with BTB’s brews.

“Our brewer does great beers,” LaValley said. “The liquid is great, the marketing side is something of interest to me and again, it helps brand the community in a way that complements everything else that we’re doing. The brewpub will be a nice base camp.”

Go here for the full story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Introducing, 'Game of Thrones' wine for the masses

They like to drink wine on "Game of Thrones." A lot of wine. And, now you can, too, and make believe you're one of the characters will doing it.

The wildly successful HBO series has partnered with Vintage Wine Estates of Santa Rosa, CA, to release a trio of "Game of Thrones" wines.
Peter Dinkelage as Tyrion Lannister

“Given the prominent role of wine on 'Game of Thrones' and our previous success in the beverage category, an officially licensed wine for the show feels like a natural extension for our fans,” said Jeff Peters, HBO's director of licensing and retail, in a statement. “ 'Game of Thrones' wines most definitely will add to the fan experience as the battle for the Iron Throne heats up heading into the final seasons.”

The wines are a "proprietary" red blend and a Chardonnay, each priced at $19.99, and a Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $39.99.

As actor Peter Dinkelage, in his role as the wine-loving Tyrion Lannister, says, “Everything’s better with some wine in the belly.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Scottish craft brewer making an unusual offer

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-27-21-pmOK, you people with an entreprenuerial spirit. How would you like to become the proprietor of a "beer mecca, hop temple and cathedral of malt"?

That's the offer from the Scottish craft brewer  and pub chain BrewDog, a company that will enter the U.S. market next year in Columbus, OH, accompanied by a promise to open a BrewDog BrewPub in any American city where at least 500 people invest in its crowdfunding offering, called Equity For Punks USA. Brewing will be done on-site at each location.

“Our BrewDog bars are beer meccas, hop temples and cathedrals of malt," said CEO James Watt. "We strive to spread the word about awesome craft beer in our bars, embracing the local beer scene and providing a platform for the world’s best beers to be enjoyed in an inimitable setting."

Every investor of at least $95 will receive equity shares in the company, as well as other incentives. Details are available online, along with a video about the venture.

Although the Ohio location will be the first in the U.S., BrewDog already is an international venture with locations in London, Rome, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, and Hong Kong as well as its native Scotland.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

NYS fares well in Jefferson Cup Invitational

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-11-33-22-pmWine competitions usually are open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee. The Jefferson Cup Invitational Awards is unique in that it is an "invitation only" competition based on how wineries have fared in other competitions around the country.

In this month's 17th annual event, held in Kansas City, MO, the New York State contingent was led by awards for Chateau LaFayette Reneau's 2015 Semi-Dry Riesling, Fox Run Vineyards' 2014 Riesling Lot 11 Lake Dana Vineyard, Seneca Lake, and its 2014 Riesling Lot 11 Hanging Delta Vineyard, Seneca Lake. The Fox Run winners are part of the winery's unique "Geology Series."

In addition, Double Gold medals were awarded to Glenora Wine Cellars' 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Lamoreaux Landing Winery's 2015 Chardonnay Reserve, and Sheldrake Point Winery's 2015 Dry Riesling. Gold medals went to Adirondack Winery's 2014 Seyval Blanc; Chateau LaFayette Reneau's 2013 Meritage and its Seyval-Chardonnay; Fox Run's 2012 Blanc de Blancs, and Wagner Vineyards' 2014 Riesling Ice. New York wines also won 27 silver and 16 bronze medals.

The competition was organized by Doug Frost, one of few people in the world to be both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. Go here for full results.

Jim Beam bourbon changes up its look

Front and rear comparisons
When you're No. 1 in the world, you make changes very slowly, if at all.

Think back to 1985 and the Coca-Cola company's disastrous tinkering with its success when it introduced New Coke and wound up quickly retreating in the face of public uproar, plummeting sales, and the realization that meddling with overwhelming success is ill advised.

Today, we look at a change just introduced by Jim Beam, the top-selling bourbon in the world. In this instance, it isn't a recipe change. It's a new package, one I first noticed locally today when I popped in to my favorite spirits shop to stock up. (Note: Pay no attention that in the accompanying images my old bottle of Beam is nearly empty. It's just an illusion.)

The change had been announced in June, but has been rolled out sporadically in various markets as older inventory was being sold. The familiar white label is the same, but the 1.75-liter bottle has been entirely redesigned. It's taller, slimmer, and sports a black cap and neck label compared to the familiar white topper. It still has a handle incorporated into the bottle itself, but now rather than a curved, four-sided design, it is finished with a curved, triangular design below the graceful neck. Other changes include sharper distiller portraits and a refined “rosette” logo.

Products in the premium portfolio, which includes Jim Beam Black, not only feature the new bottle but premium label enhancements including extra fine detailing, crafted borders, foil finishes, refined embossing and a paper matte stock. The premium bottles also include matte finished shrink sleeves along the closure. The difference in height between the old and new bottles presents a bit of an optical illusion, but the contents are the same amount.

“For seven generations and more than 220 years, Jim Beam has prided itself on going above and beyond to create the world’s finest bourbon, and we’re thrilled that our new premium packaging now even better reflects the quality and heritage that goes into every bottle around the world,” said Tim Hassett, president, Americas at Beam Suntory, the Japanese company that owns the brand. “We’re continuing to make history in 2016 with one of the most ambitious and far-reaching efforts ever made for Jim Beam. We look forward to continuing to drive the unified brand presence around the world with the upgraded packaging.”

And, Fred Noe, seventh-generation master distiller and a great-grandson of founder Jim Beam, said, "I’ve always been proud to see the faces of every Beam master distiller displayed on Jim Beam bottles across the world. These bottles feel even better in my hands when I pour the world’s finest bourbon.”

Review: 'The New Single Malt Whiskey' is superb

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-11-21-20-pmIn global whiskey parlance, the preferred single malts usually are the older ones. In this new and remarkably detailed book, the title makes it obvious something new is being addressed here.

From the handsome cover, replete with raised lettering, no-nonsense information ("more than 325 bottles from 197 distilleries in over 25 countries"), and an admirable lack of frills, to the image of stately aging barrels more than 600 pages later, this collaborative effort is a must-have for anyone serious about whiskies.

In its promotional material, the Kennebunkport, ME, book publisher Cider Mill Press makes some big claims about this offering that includes writing and photography from a wide range of professionals. Things such as "definitive guide," "the only compendium of its kind," "handsome," collectible," and "perfect for whiskey lovers old and new."

I submit that they are underselling it. "The New Single Malt Whiskey" is a masterpiece.

The well-organized book, which leads readers from country to country, is a delight from the start, which includes a scene-setting editor's note from Carlo DeVito, a veteran of the publishing industry, a writer and editor himself of numerous books on drinks and other fun topics, and owner of the Hudson Chatham Winery in Columbia County, NY. Says he, "What is The New Single Malt? More than anything there are two things that help define it. Firstly, it is single malt whiskey made anywhere in the world. It does not need to be made in Scotland. That was the first criteria. The craft movement around the world is striving to compete at the top, most epic level. ... Secondly, [it] is about style as well as place."

In addition to the obligatory tours of such whiskey centers as the U.S., Scotland, Japan, Canada and Ireland, we are led label by label, photo by photo, word by word to places most people probably never think of when it comes to creating fine whiskies. Places like Taiwan, Norway, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Finland.

The 70 or so contributors, some of them such as DeVito -- who wrote the lion's share of the entries, David Wondrich, Ruben Luyten, Eric Asimov and Elizabeth Emmons familiar to whiskey readers -- span a range of experiences as writers, editors, distillers, bloggers, journalists, etc., as big as the range of stories in the book.

As someone who has conceived, edited and co-written a whiskey anthology (shamelesss plug alert! -- "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots," Sterling Epicure) I know the difficulty of corralling a wide variety of writing styles and topics-within-the-topic and putting them into a coherent whole. I salute DeVito and company for succeeding in putting what must have been a seemingly overwhelming amount of information into such an attractive, cohesive package that all self-respecting whiskey aficionados, be they on the creating end or the consuming end, need to have on their bookshelves.

Where else, for example, are you liable to find in one tome the mini-histories and product reviews for whiskies of the Swiss Alps, the Hudson Valley, Scottish islands, England's bucolic Cotswolds region, Austrian wine country, the Frisian coastal region of the Netherlands, and the area of Spain better known for its sherries?

"The New Single Malt Whiskey" is not only for those steeped in whiskey knowledge. It includes entries on the various woods used to age the spirits -- and why American use bourbon barrels dominate; the whiskey glasses used to sample them; an old-school cooperage; and, how to taste whiskies. And, of course, it has a section on whiskey cocktails for those readers who want to put all their knowledge, newfound or otherwise, to use.

 I have the feeling if you choose this book as a holiday present for someone in your life who enjoys whiskey, it will be the most appreciated of any gift he or she receives this year.

VT distiller claims America's 1st single malt

Somewhere in this craft whiskey mad country of ours there is a distiller who will dispute the claim by a Vermont company that it has produced our first legal American single malt.

Hopscotch Vermont Single Malt Whiskey is from a cooperative effort by Mad River Distillers and Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a 46% abv (92 proof) whiskey with a 100% barley beer wash as its base; 10% of it was maple smoked with wood sourced from the distillery’s farm.

As is de rigeur for finer spirits, it was aged for a little over a year in new, charred American white oak barrels. It's a very limited edition, with just 200 hand-numbered bottles for sale at the five-year-old distillery and at several retailers in nearby Massachusetts.

“Hopscotch came about from our friendship with Sean Lawson and the idea that we had been interested in doing a single malt whiskey,” said Mad River’s Alex Hilton in a prepared statement. “We worked on a mash bill collectively that we felt would be well suited for a single malt. We distilled it, he added some hops then we barreled it. And then we waited.”

Mad River Distilling is located at 172 Mad River Green, Waitsfield, VT, and has a tasting room at 137 St. Paul Street in Burlington. Phone: 802-489-5501. Lawson's is a microbrewery located in Warren, VT.

New Beam Double Oak requires some explaining

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-16-24-amFirst things first. The new Jim Beam Double Oak does not taste twice as oaky as the Jim Beam white label many of us know and love.

Yes, it has a darker color. Yes, it's a high-corn recipe (77%, with an almost equal balance of rye and malted barley in the mash). Yes, it tastes different. But, it is not as terribly oaky as the name may imply.

The creation process, in this instance, is not double wood, which would be initial aging in one kind of wood then maturation in another. Here, the spirit is aged as usual in new, charred American white oak. Then, it moves into another new, charred white American oak barrel.

The entire process is in the four-year range. The resulting 43% abv (86 proof) bourbon -- a bit higher than the 80 proof white label -- has notes of the char along with licorice and the signature vanilla, dried fruit notes, and leather of Beam whiskies. The finish is quite a bit dryer and a bit longer than the white label.

The suggested retail price is in the $25 range for a 750ml bottle.


EU guests sample NY wines for Thanksgiving

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-11-21-07-amIf they weren't familiar with New York State wines before this week, the 40 ambassadors from around the globe who spent Thanksgiving Day at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, are now.

New York wines were the only wines accompanying a traditional American Thanksgiving meal hosted on Thursday by Anthony L. Gardner, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

The wines included two from Brotherhood Winery (Hudson Valley) -- Sparkling Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon -- as well as a Fox Run Vineyards (Seneca Lake) Riesling and Leonard Oakes Estate Winery (Lake Ontario) Ice Wine.

The reliance on New York wines was a result of the New Yorkm Wine & Grape Foundation's export program run by Susan Spence, and New York Wines S.a.r.l, a European wine importing company owned by Christian Claessens.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NY college plans 7-9 wines next spring

FLCC Viniculture and Wine Center
FLCC Viniculture and Wine Center
Finger Lakes Community College's fledgling viticulture program earned plaudits in August when its 2015 student-made Gather Dry Riesling won Best Limited Production Wine at the New York Wine & Food Classic competition.

Now, students plan to bottle seven to nine varieties of wine next spring made from grapes grown at the school's Finger Lakes CC Viticulture and Wine Center in Geneva, NY. And, they plan to ramp up their wines' images with specially designed labels.

FLCC graphic design students will unveil their proposed labels for next year’s college wines at the Viticulture and Wine Center on December 1. A representative of Niagara Label, the Erie County company that donates its services to make the labels, will discuss the printing process at the free public event.

The college's viticulture program has more than 20 tanks of 10 types of wine in the center's cellar, including Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Chardonnay, Cayuga White and Marquette. Finger Lakes Community College has a winery license to produce a commercial product.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Caribbean rum to mature in Maryland

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-7-25-41-pmCaptain Morgan's ship has sailed Or, it is about to.

Its parent company Diageo has announced it is closing its rum maturation and warehousing operation on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) by the end of 2017.

The spirits giant plans to relocate that part of its USVI operation to Relay, MD, in a bottling plant that has been closed since 2015.

Because Captain Morgan Rum will continue to be produced in the USVI, Diageo says the move will impact neither local employment nor St. Croix's "rum cover-over funds," the term used to refer to the excise tax the USVI receives when rum produced there is sold in the U.S. market.

Diageo sells more than six million cases of Captain Morgan in the U.S. annually.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Update: Distributor responds to lawsuit alleging fraud

lawsuit-iconUPDATE (11/18/16): Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits has responded to allegations in a lawsuit that it has been defrauding four Albany, NY, bars. Its statement: "We at Southern Glazer’s of Upstate New York are deeply concerned by the inaccurate accusations made in a recent lawsuit filed in Albany, NY. We plan to vigorously defend the lawsuit. The lawsuit arises out of the alleged wrongful conduct of a single employee acting independently in violation of company policy and who has been terminated. We have a long and proud tradition of the highest ethical business practices and our nearly 2,000 employees in New York fulfill our expectations in this regard every day. We take these allegations very seriously and our customers can rest assured that we have rigorous policies, procedures and training in place. We will not have any further comments about the lawsuit but anticipate we will ultimately prevail."  

(Originally published 11/15/16)

These are strange times for major New York State players in the adult-beverage sales industry. As I recently reported, the huge Empire Merchants has filed a lawsuit alleging fraud by an Illinois company that responded by trying to buy out Empire ("Drinks distributor war takes an odd turn"). Today comes word that Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits is being accused in a $1.25 million lawsuit of defrauding four Albany, NY,  bars over a period of years by charging for alcohol the businesses never ordered or received.

The suit, filed on Tuesday, alleges that a salesman for Southern Wine and Spirits, with knowledge of management, repeatedly put through unrequested last-minute orders, known as “will calls,” that the representative signed for under his own name or with forged signatures, sometimes misspelled, of representatives of The Barrel Saloon, The Capital Bistro, Public House 42, and Pearl Street Pub.

The suit, filed on behalf of Pratt and Depoli by attorney James D. Linnan, seeks $500,000 for Pearl Street Pub, the oldest of the four bars, $250,000 apiece for the other three, punitive damages to be determined, court costs and attorney fees, according to the TU. Go here for the full story.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

World's largest daiquiri measures 95 gallons

They used 80 bottles of Appleton Estate Rum, simple syrup, lime juice and ice at the Porco Lounge & Tiki Room in Cleveland to create what is being billed as the world's largest daiquiri.

Owner Stefan Was created a team of four mixologists and a support group of barbacks to man four 1.5-gallon Vitamixes until the giant tiki mug was filled.

Bottom line: As created six days ago and verified by the announcement on Wednesday, the giant drink weighed in at 95 gallons, setting the record for the largest daiquiri, according to the World Record Academy.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Report: Grapes are the top value U.S. fruit crop

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-47-16-pmIndustry statistics released during the recent Wine America conference, held this year in Oregon's Willamette Valley, provided the latest official look at the U.S. wine industry.

Here are a few tidbits, based on 2014 numbers, the latest year for which full-year statistics are available:

• Grapes, valued at nearly $6 billion annually, are the highest value fruit crop in the United States, and represent 37% of the value of all non-citrus fruit.

 • Grapes are the 6th largest fruit crop, with nearly 25,000 farms on over 1 million acres producing almost 7 million tons in 2014

• The U.S. accounts for 6% of the world's grape acreage, but 10% of grape production, reflecting its productivity and efficiency. • There are more than 8,700 wineries in the U.S. producing over 830 million gallons, with California accounting for 85% of that. (Washington is second, New York third.)

• The U.S. produces 12% of the world's wine, and consumes 13% of all wine, making it the No. 1 wine-consuming nation. • U.S. wine exports (90% from California) reached $1.49 billion in value in 2014.

 • Nearly 30,000,000 people visit wineries annually, providing employment to over 50,000 people. Wine America: The National Association of American Wineries counts 44 New York State wineries among its members.

Celebri-Quote: Suzanne Somers

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-1-09-42-pm• As one of TV's hottest sex symbols while starring in the series "Three's Company" (1976-84), Suzanne Somers a;sp became known for her health regimen as much as her comedy acting Now, at age 70, she still is a popular healthy lifestyle guru. In an interview with, the author-actress-lecturer lets people in on one of her secrets.
"I love Patron Silver tequila! I don't even think it's a bad thing.

"There's a lot of great information coming out about tequila. It has little to no sugar, so you don't get fat from it, and it also acts as a probiotic in your GI tract.

"So, I do it for medicinal purposes, pretty much one a day."

Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on drinking.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Brooklyn becomes New York State's distilling center

One of Brooklyn's whiskey labels The opening of new wineries in New York State stopped being big news a year ago when it topped the 400 mark. Likewise with new breweries and distilleries.

What is big news is where such efforts are created.

That analysis provides insight into potential marketing, promotions and tourism opportunities. A perfect example lies in the continually expanding number of spirits producers in Brooklyn. There, 15 distilleries, most of which opened within the past four years, are operating. Buffalo, is a distant second, with five.

So proclaims the New York Daily News in a breathless story announcement it labels as "EXCLUSIVE," as if basic statistics can be thus designated. (Another gripe: That story is ignorantly headlined "Most licensed booze makers in New York State housed in Brooklyn," just another example of a media venue using the sophomoric word "booze" when they would find a more refined word if referring to wine and beer.)

OK, got that off my chest. Now ...

Brooklyn's reputation these days is that of hipster haven, a far cry from its days as an ethnic melting pot and city-within-a-city. It now is replete with artisan chefs, brewers, distillers, artists, writers and other right-brain types congregating in a place that attracts the avant garde.

"It is totally hipster," Sarah Ludington, co-founder of the Van Brunt Stillhouse in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, told The Daily News.

Her company, which began operations three years ago, produces four kinds of whiskey and a rum. "I think as we started getting things rolling we realized that this whole Brooklyn brand and how much popularity it was gaining around the world was something we were plugging into."

Go here for the full Daily News story.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Willamette Valley named wine region of year

Wine Star trophies
The entirety of New York State, which measures 500 miles by car from Buffalo in the west to Montauk Point, Long Island, in the east, has a little over 400 wineries. Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a narrow 150-mile long section of that much smaller state, is home to 530.

That little swath of excellence, however, has just earned Wine Enthusiast magazine's "2016 Wine Region of the Year" designation as part of its annual Wine Star awards.

The Willamette Valley's rapid evolution as an American Viniculture Area (AVA) has emerged from scratch over a scant 50-year period from when the first Pinot Noir grape vines were planted. It now has about 20,000 acres of grapes. The valley grows multiple other varietals as well, and major companies from outside the state, such as Jackson Family Wines of California and Louis Jadot of France, have been purchasing positions with Oregon wineries or buying them outright.

“Outside investment has accelerated,” Wine Enthusiast said in announcing its 17th annual Wine Star award winners, “propelled by the recognition that Willamette Valley Pinor Noir can challenge Burgundy [France] in its ability to capture the nuance and power of the grape.”

The Willamette Valley earned the award due to the “outstanding quality of its wines and the tectonic shift in wine investments these have engendered,” the magazine said.

David Beck, Oregon Wine Board chairman, said in a prepared statement that the state’s producers are primarily small- to mid-size farmers, more than half of whom produce fewer than 5,000 cases a year. “This award is the direct reflection of the attention and care given by Oregon’s grape growers and winemakers from vine to bottle.”

Go here for a complete slideshow list of the entire Wine Star award winners.

Friday, November 11, 2016

'Interstate' cider about to make its debut

Leger and Burke with new product
We've been hearing about collaborative concoctions between brewers and distillers, and occasionally cideries, especially when they are in proximity to each other. Now, we have an interstate effort between two very different cider makers from Vermont and New York.

Angry Orchard of Walden, NY, and Eden Specialty Ciders of Newport, VT, have come up with something they call Understood in Motion 01. Although just announced on Thursday, the it actually debuted at a James Beard House Dinner in New York City on November 4. It will go on sale at Angry Orchard on Friday, November 18, which the industry has proclaimed "National Cider Day."

Eden is known for its ice ciders, which are sweet and apple-forward, and made from Vermont heirloom apples. Angry Orchard makes a variety of ciders, including specialty ciders available only at the Innovation Cider House, its home for research and development at its 60-acre orchard in Walden, Orange County.

"One of our main goals is to raise awareness of the cider industry in the Unites States, and this is a goal our friends at Eden share," said Ryan Burk, head cider maker at Angry Orchard. "Their cider makers make some of the world's best ice ciders and I've always admired their approach. With this collaboration, we were able to combine our techniques to create something completely new and, in the process, help push American cider forward."

What resulted in Understood in Motion 01 began when Eleanor Leger, Eden founder and CEO, and Burke met at a cider event in New York City. The idea of a cooperative effort between two makers of very different types of ciders resulted.

Their new hard cider is made from a blend of heirloom apples from Vermont, including Ananas Reinette and D'Arcy, a semi-dry with balanced acidity and low tannins. There are some oak and spirits flavor notes from the time it spent aging in Calvados barrels. It is finished at 8% abv, and sold in 750ml bottles for $25 per at a variety of locations.

Does wine algorithim have better taste than you?

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-8-37-18-pmFrom Bloomberg news service
Dustin Wilson thinks there’s a better way to buy wine. ... And he’d know: Wilson is one of only 230 master sommeliers in the world. His credentials include working as wine director for Michelin-starred New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park -- a dream job for any wine geek, but one he quit in 2015.

[He now runs] Verve Wine, an algorithm-based e-commerce site which will launch in December with about 1,000 bottles for sale. Would-be patrons start by visiting Wilson’s Manhattan store, which is scheduled to open next Monday, for a sitdown with him or one of his half-dozen certified sommeliers. Each customer is put through a wine-tasting Q&A session and the results are fed into a custom software program.

The results? Check out the full story here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sauza spruces up its label look

sauzaSauza Tequila has redesigned its packaging, emphasizing "the bird" in a move to present a more contemporary look.

The gallo, or rooster, image that has long been part of the bottle as raised glass, is emphasized in the new design.

The creature has been part of the Sauza family crest since 1873 when company founder Don Cenobio Sauza chose it to, according to the company, represent courage, passion and perseverance.

Sauza is the second biggest tequila brand in the world behind only Jose Cuervo.

It started in a small distillery, called La Perseverancia, in the town of Tequila in Mexico's Jalisco state. The brand's lineup includes Sauza Signature Blue Silver, Signature Blue Reposado, Conmemorativo Añejo, Gold, Silver, and Cucumber Chili.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rare bottle of Scotch goes for $86K

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-10-47-pmTake a look at the accompanying image of an old bottle of Glenfiddich scotch whisky. Chances are it will be the only time you'll see it.

That bottle, from The Glenfiddich Collection 1937, sold this week for an auction record price of $86,634 at Bonhams’ Whisky Sale in Edinburgh, Scotland, nearly double the pre-sale estimate. It is the highest ever paid at auction for a bottle of Glenfiddich and a Scottish auction house record for the sale of a single malt.

The whisky, bought by an unidentified bidder from the Far East, was laid down in Cask No. 843 at The Glenfiddich Distillery in 1937, the year of King George VI’s coronation, and bottled 64 years later in 2001.

Experts say it is very unusual for a single malt Scotch whisky of its age to have kept its strength, which is what makes the 60 bottles from Cask No. 843 so special. It is the oldest and rarest bottling ever undertaken at the distillery.

Patrón test launching sherry-aged tequila

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-45-10-pmIf you are among the many travelers who like to see what new alcoholic products are available in airport duty free shops, here's one to be on the lookout for.

Patrón Spirits' Cask Collection Sherry Añejo Tequila will be test launched in such venues early in 2017 before a wider international market rollout.

The 40% abv (80 proof) spirit will carry a suggested retail price of $90. It was unveiled this week at the Tax Free World Association (TFWA) exhibition in Cannes, France.

So, what's different about it? Initially, its limited availability. Only 8,000 bottles of the añejo spirit will be available during the test launch in the category known in the trade as GTR, for Global Travel Retail. It has been aged for two years in used Olorosso Sherry oak barrels from Spain.

Beam opens immense new aging facility

Beam's expanded Frankfort, KY, complex.
Beam's Frankfort, KY, complex
Beam bourbons are the category's top sellers worldwide, and it is obvious the distiller foresees no decline any time soon. Beam has just opened an immense new rackhouse at its Frankfort, KY, complex.

The seven-story aging facility covers more than 275,000 square feet, making it the largest of its kind for Beam in Kentucky, and the first opened by the company since 1968.

Beam now has 122 rackhouses. At full capacity, the new rackhouse has room for more than 59,000 barrels, 17% more than its next-largest warehouse. It is the largest rackhouse that can be built under Kentucky state law.

The warehouse is part of a planned $1 billion-plus investment by Beam to to make bourbon in Kentucky over the next five years, including grains, barrels, payroll and capital expenditures, the company said.

“The need for this incredible new rackhouse really underscores the global thirst for bourbon,” said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory, in a prepared statement. “I’m so proud of the team here in Frankfort, and all of our operations in Kentucky, who have been working so hard to keep up with the pace of demand for bourbon around the world.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

When is 'bourbon-like' not bourbon? Now!

Master Blender Selection No, 1
OK, I officially am confused. Very confused. The normally reliable Bloomberg news service recently published an online story it headlined "Hennessy Releases a New Bourbon-Like Spirit to Win Over Whiskey Lovers," with a subhead that says, " If you don’t consider yourself a Cognac drinker, consider this."

Bourbon-like? Mixing in a reference to Cognac? WTF! Has Bloomberg been hoodwinked? Its story begins this way:
"We don't tell Yann what to do. Yann tells us what to do.” Jordan Bushell, Hennessy’s head of mixology and education, is sitting in a glassed-in conference room at Bloomberg in New York, batting away the suggestion that executives could dictate product development to its seventh-generation master blender, Yann Fillioux. “We had asked him for different things, and he kind of said, ‘All right, here's the blend of the moment.’ ”
In other words, as Bushell would have the Bloomberg reporters believe, because a spirits developer has a bunch of ancestors with a track record in the field, we should be willing to take anything that person decrees as gospel.

"Sorry, that is utter drivel. Bourbon did not get to be "bourbon" by allowing competing spirits to be "bourbon-like."

True, bourbon producers cut such whiskeys as Jack Daniel's and other Tennessee sipping whiskies a bit of slack, conceding that they are "bourbonesque" before undergoing filtration through maple charcoal that puts them into their own category. But, that is as far as they will go.

The product in question here is Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1, a new Cognac expression officially announced on October 24. Professionals who tasted it when it was unveiled at the industry extravaganza called Tales of the Cocktail, held annually in New Orleans, generally judged it a slightly sweet, slightly over-proof, single-batch blend of 80 to 100 eau de vie, aged up to 16 years in two- to four-year-old French Limousin oak.

That said, the very description separates the product from bourbon by a wide margin. So, why is Hennessy pushing it as "bourbon-like" and getting some writer to go along with that label? Sales potential, people. What else?

True bourbons continue to be THE hottest-selling whiskies on the planet, so why not leap on the bandwagon. Even the Bloomberg report notes that the research firm IWSR says "Sales of super-premium bourbon increased 28.8% from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, comparable cognac sales increased 9.5%.

To put a value on it, Euromonitor International reports that $3.8 billion worth of bourbon was sold retail in the U.S. in 2015 vs. $1.3 billion worth of cognac, a 19.1% vs. 8.5% year-over-year growth, respectively."

So, in essence what we have here is yet another poseur seeking to hitch itself to the bourbon comet. I don't buy it. Stand or fall on your merits, I say. We didn't get to where we are with pure spirits categories by fuzzing the definitions and being sanguine about it.

Plantation debuts multi-blend overproof rum

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-10-42-27-pmThe Plantation Rum portfolio has just been expanded by brand owner Maison Ferrand.

The new Plantation OFTD Overproof Rum is a blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados rums. The OFTD acronym stands for "Old Fashioned Traditional Dark," and the 69% abv newcomer is being delivered to vendors this month.

The blend is anything but an in-house creation. The components were selected by a panel made up of Plantation's Alexandre Gabriel; drinks historian David Wondrich; Jeff Berry, proprietor of Latitude 29 in New Orleans; Martin Cate, proprietor of Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco; Paul McFadyen, proprietor of Trailer Happiness in London; Paul McGee, proprietor of Lost Lake in Chicago, and Scotty Schuder, proprietor of Dirty Dick in Paris.

OFTD is being put on sale at a suggested retail price of $31.99 per 1-liter bottle.

The Plantation portfolio also includes Plantation Pineapple Stiggins' Fancy, which was introduced to the U.S. market earlier this year, 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Grande Reserve 5 Year Old, 20th Anniversary XO and a group of single-country vintage dated rums. The brand is handled in the U.S. by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

Celebri-Quote: Jessica Alba

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-11-25-51-pmApparently alcohol is the key to achieving Jessica Alba’s hair glory. That, at least, is a conclusion we're expected to draw from the latest stupid use of tequila -- the actress appearing on the daytime TV talk show "Ellen" on which host Ellen DeGeneres helps her go through the steps of using products from Alba's hair care line. 
“As a mom of two young girls," Alba says during the skit, "sometimes I feel a little tired, so I also spritz my face when I wake up in  the morning.

“Here’s a little secret: I keep a shot of tequila on my vanity. And, mommy’s thirsty!”

She chugs a shot, supposedly of tequila, then makes a face and declares, “Ah! It’s real!”

Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on Drinking.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

French grape harvest turns into a hunt

Grape buckets not full this year.
Harvest buckets not full this year
In several earlier postings (here is the most recent), I've described the decline of wine grapes worldwide as reports of poor harvests keep coming in. But, it may be even worse than thought.

"This isn't so much a harvest, as a hunt for grapes," French winemaker Jean-Jacques Robert, 64, told the English-language French publication The Local as he unloaded grapes still warm from his vineyards around Fuisse in Burgundy.

"It's a catastrophe, the worst harvest for 30 or 40 years," said the normally cheery owner of Domaine Robert-Denogent.

Reports The Local, the organic winemaker lost between two-thirds and three-quarters of his harvest in one hailstorm in April. And, he is not alone. For thousands of French winemakers, 2016 will go down as an annus horribilis -- horrible year -- with vines destroyed by frost, heavy rain, hailstones "as big as ping pong balls," mildew and drought near the Mediterranean. "

All that was missing was a plague of frogs," said Robert's son Antoine, whose near century-old Beaujolais vines also were devastated. Go here for the full story.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bollinger's 'lost Champagne' to star at auction

In the Bollinger Champagne cellar

Do you get a little giddy after pulling a winter coat out of storage and finding a $20 bill in the pocket? Imagine, then, the thrill of discovering a hidden chamber filled with over 600 bottles and magnums of pre-World War II reserve wine for Bollinger Champagne. ...

(T)hat’s precisely what happened at this Champagne house in Aÿ [France]. In fact, an intern had been sent to the subterranean tunnels of the property’s cellar to clean. During the process of removing a wall of empty bottles, another wall sealing off an abandoned chamber was discovered. Inside were the personal wine collections of past family members dating back to 1830. Bollinger was founded in 1829. ...

A restoration project was started to save the rare bottles. All of the wines will remain in the Bollinger Wine Libraries with the exception of one. And that one bottle ... is the showpiece of Bollinger’s first-ever auction, hosted by Sotheby’s in New York City on November 19.

Go here for the full story.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Napa winemaker indicted on broad fraud charges

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-1-48-43-pmA federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted former winemaker Jeffry Hill in an extensive scheme of alleged mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with his operation of a Napa Valley, CA, wine company.

The indictment was unsealed this week by U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau official Tom Crone in a case they estimated cost consumers as much as $1.5 million in overpayments.

Hill, 38, formerly of Napa, ran the Hill Wine Company (HWC), a business of making and selling wine and wine inputs, such as pre-fermented grape juice, among other things. It operated a winery and tasting room in Napa County, CA., on the Silverado Trail, and used winemaking equipment at facilities owned by others in Napa and Sonoma counties.

According to the indictment, Hill defrauded HWC’s customers by misrepresenting the geographic origin and grape varietal of the wine and wine products that he sold, thus causing customers to pay more than they otherwise would have, or to buy products they otherwise would not have.

Federal regulations establish American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), geographically delineated regions with particular wine-growing characteristics. The Napa Valley AVA is one such AVA. Under federal regulations, wine can only be labeled as originating from a particular AVA if not less than 85% of the liquid volume of the wine is derived from grapes grown within its boundaries.

Napa Valley wine is seen as premium wine and often sells at a higher price than wine from other parts of California, and grapes grown in the Napa Valley AVA generally are more expensive than those grown in other parts of California.

According to the indictment, Hill allegedly grew or purchased grapes, pre-fermented grape juice or wine grown outside of the Napa Valley then sold bulk grape juice, bulk wine, or bottled wine made from these non-Napa Valley grapes while representing the products to have been made from Napa Valley AVA grapes. Similarly, he allegedly misrepresented as cabernet sauvignon wine that was made from other varietals of grapes. According to the indictment, customers paid over $1,500,000 for fraudulently mislabeled wine, grape juice, or wine products.

Hill also allegedly took steps to conceal and hide his scheme to defraud, using such maneuvers as altering or creating false bills of lading and other records; maintaining false inventory records; falsely stating to his company’s employees that grapes grown outside of Napa Valley were grown there; moving grapes or wine between his company’s three facilities to obscure their origin of the grapes, and instructing employees who picked grapes to mislabel the origin and varietal of grapes that they picked.

Hill was arrested on Tuesday in Clovis, CA, made his initial appearance in federal court, and was released on conditions. His next appearance is scheduled for November 16 in San Francisco. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount gained or lost as a result of the scheme. The court may also order that the defendant pay restitution, if appropriate.


Thanksgiving perfect time for a 'forgotten' wine

"There are no wrong Thanksgiving wines."

That's the headline on an offering from esteemed wine writer Eric Asimov in this week's New York Times food section. As he says of the holiday ritual, "People will stuff their faces, just as they always do. Family and friends will abound, and though we may occasionally complain about grudges and petty differences, the gathering will be pretty fine in the end."

In my own "always," Thanksgiving was a very big deal in the household of my childhood. My stepfather, an otherwise unsentimental man, regarded it as the perfect holiday, his favorite holiday.

Although I didn't learn much else from him, I did absorb a thing or two about wines and spirits and the proper appreciation of both.

He left the creation of the turkey and assorted treats to my mother and me -- or whichever grandmother happened to be visiting -- but reserved to himself the selection of the accompanying wines for all holiday repasts.

His go-to for Thanksgiving usually was a Sauternes, that ethereal French wine produced in the maritime climate of the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, that nowadays can be a rarity to find. As the aforementioned Mr. Asimov wrote in a commentary two Thanksgivings ago, "Nobody drinks Sauternes anymore, it seems. That is a shame, because this revered sweet wine of Bordeaux can so often be sublime."

I concur. Should you be interested in trying a Thanksgiving wine you may not have experienced before, I suggest you try this blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as "the noble rot." That is a fungus that, despite its rather disgusting appearance, is welcomed by many grape growers because it imparts a special delicacy to the grapes it infects by causing them to become partially raisined, thus concentrating the flavors.

The best sauternes balance common flavor notes of honey, apricots and peaches, sometimes even a mild nutty note, with a dose of acidity. They are a yellow-gold in color if young, and grow darker as they get older. If you find one that tends toward the color of a copper coin, you're on the path to big taste -- and big money. Sauternes typically are best served at temperatures in the mid-50s, although older versions can be a touch warmer.

I must caution, though, that a good Sauternes -- most often sold in 375ml bottles -- is not an inexpensive wine. Chateau d'Yquem, the most popular and well-known label, runs in the $200 range for the 2011 vintage. But, the 2009 Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey Sauternes is a bargain at $33.

Obviously, you'll need to consult with a trusted wine merchant who has access to top-notch suppliers so you can select from a range of possibilities. You won't be sorry you did.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Coming up for water, one more time

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-16-00-pmEvery few years, the topic of water pops up in this column. Yes, water.

The latest nudge came in a story posted today on, titled "A Sommelier for Water? Seven Ways Somms Are Moving Past Wine."

Attention Bloomberg people. That is not a new topic. I wrote one of the first stories about America's first water sommelier back in the summer of 2002. That was after I visited with Filip Wretman, who was new to that role while employed at the Battery Park Ritz-Carlton hotel in lower Manhattan.

That same year, the topic popped up in various other incarnations. For example, The New York Times ran a piece on Wretman it headlined "Where Ice Water Is an Insult, and Tap Is a Disgrace." Hotel Online published a syndicated story that also credited Wretman with being the trailblazer.

Between then and now, the topic and various sommelier's names have occasionally been in the media. In 2013, for example, the author of The Food Writer's Diary published in Nation's Restaurant News alluded to the first time he "heard about" Wretman was "11 years ago," which would have put in it 2002, when the original stories were published. Then last year the Eater website ran an interview with "America's only water sommelier," a German expat named Martin Riese who plies his trade in Los Angeles, that sounded suspiciously close to crediting him with creating that role in the U.S. Perhaps they were influenced by Newsweek, which in 2014 did precisely that in an interview with Riese it titled "A 44-page Water Menu from America's First 'Water Sommelier'."

Here's a slightly abridged version of my original story, about America's real first water sommelier:


NEW YORK — Some of the best water in the city comes out of the tap, straight from reservoirs in the Catskills. Anyone can show you where to get it.
Some of the most expensive comes in bottles, straight from places such as France, Sweden, Fiji, Italy, Norway, Canada, Scotland and various U.S. states. Your friendly water sommelier can suggest which to choose.

Well, he can if you’re dining at the new Ritz-Carlton hotel in Battery Park. The management says they have the only such person in the world.

His name is Filip Wretman. He’s 26, a diminutive, GQ-slim Swede who came to the United States via various peaks and islands.

Wretman, son of the prominent Swedish restaurateur/chef/writer Tore Wretman, openly concedes he did not set out to be a water expert, much less the first water sommelier. He studied the hospitality business at the Les Roches hotel school in Switzerland, and worked in the Swiss Alps, the Philippines and St. Bart’s in the Caribbean before coming to Manhattan as bar manager at the Ian Schrager chain’s trendy Hudson Hotel, near Columbus Circle.

So, how much did Wretman know about water when the Ritz-Carlton decided to get serious about its offerings at the new hotel, which opened in January after being delayed in the aftermath of 9/11?

“Not much more than anyone else,” Wretman said with disarming honesty during a private water tasting.

He said he spoke to numerous vendors and spent a lot of Internet research time getting to know more about the burgeoning business of bottled water, a hit in many countries but particularly booming in the United States.

Wretman’s research and tastings did more than simply acquaint him with the numerous brands of bottled water anyone can find in local supermarkets -- brands such as Fiji, San Pellegrino, Evian, Aquafina, Acqua Della Madonna, Dasani, Deer Park, Poland Spring and on and on for 1,800 or so brands worldwide, including such familiar Capital Region brands as Saratoga, Diamond Spring and Vermont Pure.

His studies made him comfortable selecting and suggesting a range of still and sparking waters that make ideal accompaniments for cheeses, certain sauces, spicy or mild dishes, sweet or salty offerings, desserts and the like.

Some might think having an in-house water expert is merely a high-end hotel’s contrivance or a gimmick to sell bottles of high-priced waters. Contrivance, perhaps, but not a particularly expensive one. At the Ritz-Carlton, you can try as many waters as you like at just $5 a head, less than the price of a cocktail.

“We really see it as part of our mission of providing comfort and gracious living to all our visitors, whether they’re overnight guests or not,” says Nikheel Advani, the hotel’s food and beverage director.

The Ritz-Carlton’s goal at Battery Park, Advani notes, is to make it “a center of comfort and tranquillity in a rebuilt city.” Wretman keeps a dozen or so waters on hand, but can come up with virtually any brand a visitor requests with at least 24 hours notice. After all, the Ritz-Carlton chain prides itself on catering to visitors’ every whim. It even has a bath butler who creates various bathwater concoctions designed to refresh, soothe and pamper guests. …

How does a water expert compare the art of recommending waters to that of recommending wines?

“Wine is a world of its own,” Wretman said. “You can recommend much more specifically. With water, we didn’t want to treat this in a way that would make people think of it as a hoax. But, it is quite true that different waters will have different impacts on the palate. They can help you recover the tastes of other foods after eating chocolates, cheeses, and so on … With those sorts of food courses we would suggest a sparkling water to clear the palate.”

Perrier, a familiar name to American consumers, is one such sparkler recommended for cleansing because of its large natural bubbles, Wretman says. San Pellegrino, on the other hand, has tiny bubbles and a high mineral content, giving it a more distinctive taste that would work well with salty or very spicy dishes. Fiji is very light, with a high silica content that complements meat and game without interfering with their juices.

What about the ice cubes in drinks?

“New York tap water,” Wretman confided with a slight smile. “Maybe someday we’ll have that kind of demand for specialty ice cubes, but we’re certainly not at that stage today.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mount Gay rum celebrates Barbados independence

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-38-53-pmBarbados is a picturesque Caribbean island that until 1966 had been ruled by a number of European colonial powers. Now, it is marking its 50th year of independence and one of its principal companies is celebrating with a limited edition bottling of Mount Gay rum.

The island, inhabited by Kalinago people since the 13th Century and prior to that probably by other Amerindians, first came under European influence when Spanish explorers visited in the late 15th Century and claimed it for the Spanish crown. The Portuguese visited in 1536, but they left it unclaimed although they did leave behind a herd of hogs that reproduced and made the island known for their meat. In 1625, the English ship Olive Blossom arrived and its crew claimed the island in the name of King James I.

In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and Barbados became an English and later British colony, obtaining independence within the British Commonwealth.

The French company Rémy Cointreau, owner of the Mount Gay facility, commissioned Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, a blend of spirits matured for eight to 15 years and bottled at 63% abv. The rum, which goes on sale this month, is described as having “notes of ripe banana and toasted almond, followed by vanilla and spice, to create a smooth, unforgettable finish.”

“This is our tribute to the spirit of Barbados, the original birthplace of rum, and the people that make this island so unique,” said Allen Smith, master blender. “To taste XO Cask Strength is to experience everything that fans love about XO, but it gives connoisseurs the special opportunity to enjoy the truest intensity of XO aromas straight from the casks.”

Bottles from the 3,000-bottle lot, priced at $185, come packaged in a wooden box with a booklet on the history of rum’s origin in Barbados. A portion of the sales of every bottle sold will be donated to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to support its efforts in conserving the history and culture of Barbados.

Whiskey-beer hybrid from Sam Adams, Berkshire distiller

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-59-49-pmA pair of Massachusetts alcoholic beverage makers founded nearly a quarter-century apart have found common ground in something that happened in 1775.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD) and the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beers, on Tuesday announced the release of Two Lanterns American Whiskey, the result of a four-year collaboration with Samuel Adams.

BMD created the premium whiskey by triple distilling Samuel Adams' flagship Boston Lager at its distillery in Great Barrington, followed by years of barrel aging in vintage bourbon barrels. While BMD is known for aging spirits in used craft beer barrels, Two Lanterns is the first distilled with Boston Lager.

Chris Weld, founder of BMD, said it took nearly 25,000 gallons of Boston Lager to produce the 1,000 gallons of Two Lanterns available for purchase at a suggested retail price of $120 per bottle.

Once fully emptied, the American oak barrels used for aging the whiskey will make the trip back to the Boston Brewery, where they will be used for a yet-to-be-named barrel-aged beer. Various tasting events, with details available online, will be held throughout November to introduce the new beverage.

“After anxiously waiting for more than four years, we are excited to finally share the fruits of our teamwork for craft whiskey and beer lovers to enjoy,” he said.

The whiskey’s name was inspired by the two lanterns lit at Old North Church in Boston in 1775 that signaled to the Sons of Liberty that the British were coming by sea to Lexington and Concord to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock and hang them as traitors.

Jim Koch brewed the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen in 1984, using his grandfather’s recipe and generally being credited with launching the domestic craft beer movement. His company currently produces 60 styles of beers and ales.

BMD was established in 2007, and produces such artisinal spirits including Greylock Gin, Ethereal Gins, Ragged Mountain Rum, Ice Glen Vodka, Berkshire Bourbon and New England Corn Whiskey.