Monday, April 6, 2015

Give It A Light TAP NY 2015

A photo posted by Scott Spolverino (@inwithbacchus) on

Any day that you get to begin the day with a Double IPA from Captain Lawrence brewing is a good...good day. And, luck have it, I get to repeat this day again!

A few weeks ago an email crossed my inbox that made me all giddy inside. TAP NY, and it's Marketing and Communications Manager, Kaitlin O'Connor (Katie), was enticing me with media passes to this year's TAP NY. This means two things to me:

  1. I get to go to TAP NY.
  2. Last year I did not make an utter fool of myself and get myself barred from one of the finest beer festivals NY has to offer. Either that or I did but they are willing to give me a second chance to redeem myself / blow it and drink barrel aged stout all day and mumble incoherently about the lack of cask milds in the US like I'm Ding.
Both of these are pretty meaningful to me. In REALITY (self-deprecating humor aside), it means that someone liked what I wrote. Which feels good, y'know? In a world where a lot of things are going wrong, something that I DID went right. I guess. I'm not gonna look into it too deeply ere I find something contrary to that notion. But, as I am in a world where a lot of things are going wrong, TAP NY presents a bit of a quandary for me. I really can't drink heavily / all day anymore. I thought about this for awhile: would it be ethical for me to accept press passes when I can no longer swig export strength stout anymore? 

After mulling it over for awhile, I realized (much like previous) that there were two things. One is the fact that, across the nation, craft brewing is slowly inching towards accepting low ABV beers With the success of Notch, and what seems like an absolute flood of funky-yet-low-ABV beers that are becoming popular (looking at you gose and Berliner-weisse), I'd be able to find plenty to drink. The other thing I realized is doesn't matter how much I'm able to drink. If I have one beer in hand all day, I'm okay with that. I can still tell a story. And, as I hope you've realized by now, I sure do like telling stories.

So I will be at TAP NY on April 28th, with my photographer, snapping photos and drinking water/Peeksill Simple Sour. If you want to buy tickets, you can still buy them here for both the Saturday and Sunday sessions. DD tickets are available as well so be responsible and buy one for a friend who wants to watch your drunken antics. So if you've got the ability, money, and wherewithal to come, let me know and we can hang out. You can be woven into the narrative tapestry for the after-action report I write up on Monday.

I might even tell you a story.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Of Replicants and Reactions

These days, it is hard to invoke a response from me. Couple the myriad of medications I'm on with my constant fatigue and general laissez-faire attitude about things and getting me to react in an emotional way is pretty difficult. I wouldn't say I'm robotic in nature but things are definitely taken with a grain of salt. Well...salt substitute. High salt doesn't work with some of my medication. I suppose, in some aspects, that I am a simulacrum of a distiller. I act like a distiller, think like a distiller, live and breathe distilling...but I don't distill. If you're familiar with Blade Runner, I guess I could be considered a distiller replicant. Only, in my world, there is significantly less 80's style film noir and far more video games and coffee.


Recently, a paper came across my desk. A white paper by Lost Spirits Distillery. A white paper that has proved to be my Voight-Kampff Test. In case you've never seen Blade Runner (shame on you), the Voight-Kampff Test is an analysis machine used to evoke an emotional response in its test subject to determine whether or not the subject is a replicant or not. Here is an example from the movie of a Voight-Kampff test:

A replicant, in case you still haven't seen it by the time you've watched that video and realized how awesome of a movie it is and how your life isn't complete without watching it, is a synthetically made android designed in every way, shape, and form to mimic a human...except for their emotional response. Why? Because how do you instill love, hate, passion, perseverance, and understanding into something when it is so varied and poorly understood in the human instilling it? But...I digress.

The Lost Spirits Distillery white paper (available here for full reading) is the latest in "scientific" papers put out by those seeking to tame the savage and patient beast that is barrel aging. I have been watching Lost Spirits for a long time now, carefully examining the papers they put out, and, truth be told, enjoying the work they've been doing. It's not all-encompassing but it's an interesting peek under the hood of one car. However, their latest paper makes some bold claims that, frankly, I see fault in. Not that I necessarily DISAGREE, per se. It is more of a situation in which far more research is needed and, once again, fails to encompass the entirety of the situation. If you'll permit me (and I hope you will considering you're reading this), I'd like to critique it. So let's jump in, eh?

The Model 1, as they call it, is their newest introduction into the world of accelerated barrel aging. A skid mounted chemical reactor to be charged with new-make spirit and oak chips, turned on, and the magic worked. It focuses, almost exclusively, on the esterification process (which I've mentioned here) for  fermentation-based acids and decomposition and esterification of wood / phenolic aldehydes. This takes place in a three-stage process catalyzed by "energy in various forms". Phase 1 esterifies fermentation-based acids into short chain esters. Phase 2 is a catalyzed breakdown of lignin/cellulose into constituent phenolic aldehyde precursors. Phase 3 replicates the maturation process by catalyzing reactions of phenolic aldehydes / oak-based aldehydes into medium and long chain esters.

So far, the science is correct...if seemingly implausible. It seems very much like most of the other products out there. If I had to guess what forms of energy its using, I'd guess ultrasonic, heat, and maybe some sort of electricity-based redox (reduction/oxidation) setup in the line of a plating system...although that last one I'm not sure of because A) there's no highly conducive feedstock and B) RUNNING A REDOX REACTION IN BARREL STRENGTH SPIRITS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. I'll get back to you on that last one. However, the actual hard data is where they lose me completely. While I won't steal their work and post their data here, I urge you to boot up their paper (once again, found here) and follow along as I get to do what I've always done: break out my big red pen and play TA.

Figure 1:

First off, my problem here is they are using three spirits. Two control (the new make and 33 year old control) and the variable "aged" sample. First off, you can't even calculate a standard deviation. Or a confidence interval. Or error bars. This is bad. If you wish to present a white paper to draw in potential investors/clients, you might want to expand further than one sample. The more samples you present, the more it seems like you've tested it. Also, the less it seems like you cherry-picked data.

Also, it states that the acetyl peak is 60% of the 33 year old sample and, thus, is 15-20 years old. Where did this number come from? There is no source for the "chemical marker concentration" analysis. I mean, 60% of 33 is 19.8 so is that what was went with? There's no context to that statement.

Figure 2:

To start, the graph has no units and that bothers me. Are they picograms? Micrograms? Kilograms? What are the units of measurement here? Once again, two samples are used. Once again, two samples are not enough. But I think the BIGGEST problem I have here is the data itself and what it's telling me. In most cases, save ethyl octanoate and (maybe) isovaleraldehyde, Mark 1 is producing more esters in six days than in a barrel for 33 years. Isn't that a tad...excessive?

You have to understand here, esterification is not completely a two way street. The balance between aldehydes and acids is constantly in flux because of the instability of the additional oxygen molecule to the structure. The polarity of that oxygen destabilizes the whole molecule and makes it prone to, well, breaking the bond. But once you esterify takes a lot of work to go back especially in the instance of barrel maturation. There are two reasons for this. Reason one is that the barrel reactions could potentially undergo Fischer esterification. Fischer esterification is an acid catalyzed esterification of carboxylic acid and alcohol. The acids made during both the aldehyde/acid equilbrium, as well as the acids left over from fermentation, could catalyze the reaction. The equilibrium constant of a Fischer esterification favors the products side (usually Keq > 1) but the reaction will not go to completion. The only way to break that equilibrium would be to invoke Le Chatelier's principle. Le Chatelier's principle, while pretty serious sounding, basically states that you can interrupt equilibrium by concentration, temperature, or pressure and the system will change its equilibrium. In simpler terms, imagine that you have a tug of war team that is stuck in a stalemate. No one is able to pull the other across the line so, in order to win, one side calls in a friend to help out. The tug of war stalemate is equilibrium, the extra friend is the Le Chatelier's principle modifier of "concentration". One side of the rope has more people on it so the balance tips in their favor. How is this done for Fischer esters? Well...since one of the products of esterification is water, lowering the concentration of water will do. evaporation. See where I'm going with this?

That being said, all of this is conjecture and there are a lot of "ifs" in there. There is also the fact that all three of the Le Chatelier's principle variables are changing within a barrel. Temperature, pressure, AND concentration are in constant flux. The Mark 1 does not suffer from evaporative losses so a changing water concentration IS out but if it is a sealed container, temperature and pressure are definitely changing.

Figure 3

Two samples. No units. Unsubstantiated age claim. I won't harp on that. What interests me is the level of sinapaldehyde. Sinapaldehyde should be reacting into sinapic acid / ethyl sinapate but I've seen no mention of it in the paper. Odd.


By now I'm sure you're saying to yourself "But Bacchus, we've let you ramble for twenty minutes and you haven't gotten to the point!" And you'd be right.

The Mark 1 is promising. This paper raises more questions than it does to answer them. Despite its flaws, it intrigues me. But from what I can see is that the spirit the Mark 1 will produce isn't a traditional spirit. It is...a replicant. Exact in all the ways that we know...but yet somehow different. It shares a lot of the markers common in aged spirits but it neglects a lot of the other underlying chemistry that we don't understand. What of the evaporative need for sulfur-based compounds? What of the ethanol-water clustering? What of the concentrations of base aldehydes and acids that ALSO contribute to the spirit? The focus on heavily reacted esters is...admirable...but, like a replicant, it is trying to fabricate one aspect of spirit maturation when there are so many facets that we don't understand and cannot replicate. It may look the same. It may constitute chemical similarity. But on the inside, I don't think it will BE the same. There are so many microcosms of reactions and interactions that I don't think can be replicated by the Mark 1. It sacrifices much for the headlong goal of long-chain esters that may be critical to the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. But much like Deckard, I will watch. I will wait. I will see what it can do. It's the most promising foray into maturation science I've seen in awhile and the fact that someone is using GC-MS to quantify spirits makes me happy. This paper has been my Voight-Kampff test. But whether I reacted appropriately remains to be seen. I hope I did.

Otherwise I would not be a very well manufactured replicant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey - March 17th, 2015

When I was young, one of my favorite drinks was Hi-C's Ecto Cooler. Do you remember Ecto Cooler? A neon green citrus ambrosia tucked into Slimer bedecked cardboard boxes and in the grubby hands of kids everywhere?

It was awesome.

The premise, I suppose, was a tie-in with the Ghostbusters movie/tv show. I guess you were drinking Slimer's ecto-slime that he blasted all over Peter Venkman / Bill Murray in one of my favorite scenes in Ghostbusters (the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man scene, while it scared the hell out of me and made me want s'mores, is a close second).

I'm sure, at this point, you're wondering what this has to do with Teeling Whiskey. Bear with me here.

Today, as I'm sure you all know, is St. Patrick's Day, or St. Paddy's Day. All around the world, people are downing Solo cups of spirulina-like quaffs of green beer and, more likely than not, recreating the above scene. Only at 2:30 am in a bar bathroom. Or, even worse, in a hotel hallway. While I have a fierce love of green beverages (except you, Midori) beer is not one of them. No combination of food dye and cheap suds is enough of a motivator to get me to revel in the "luck o the Irish", as it were. If I'm celebrating St. Paddy's Day, it's with a dark pint of Murphy's or...maybe...a drop of Irish whiskey.

See what I did there? BROUGHT IT HOME.

Teeling Whiskey Co. has intrigued me for awhile anyway. It's rotund yet elegant bottle. The fact that it's heralding the first distillery in Dublin in 125 years. The fact that, from what I've heard, it has a high malt profile in its standard Small Batch expression. The fact that, for all intents and purposes, it is a successful and well-liked Irish whiskey that is a positive sign of small Irish whiskey growth. Whatever it is, it's been on my radar for awhile. And when I was approached by a PR company with a bottle and a "St. Patrick's Day Cocktail" premise, well, I jumped on it. So they sent over a full bottle (I forwent a $25 Whole Foods gift card for ingredients because I didn't need 'em) for me to investigate and review. I can't find much information on their Small Batch in terms of distillation and maturation specifics but it is bottled at 46%, non-chill filtered, and finished in rum barrels for six months after primary maturation. Before I jump into the notes, here's a few pictures to whet your whistle:

Nice lookin, huh? Alright, here's the notes:

Nose: Definitely ex-bourbon primary maturation. Sweet vanilla cream and biscuits, buttered toast. Brown sugar. Touch of fresh milled grain. Fruit as well; pineapple, apples. Slightly grassy. Touches of rose and honey as it opens up.

Taste: Vanilla custard and barley sugar. Thinner mouthfeel than I expected for a non chill filtered. Heather honey There's some herbal component in it that I'm having trouble placing. Almost like an unsweetened allspice dram? Not sure. Finish has those rum touches of burnt sugar and citrusy cream. Drying too.

A gratuitous liquid photo:

It's definitely an ex-bourbon baby to begin with. It's got those hearty oak lactones and barrel backbone. I don't think they're ALL first fill, maybe second fill grain with some fresh malt. The cereal components really are nice. They're subtle but bring a nice "oomph" to it. It's a solid whiskey. Not incredibly complex, mind you, but very, very solid. Has enough complexity that a neat glass of it would be welcome but I think it'd do well in cocktails with a citrus focus. Or maybe even a Teeling Milk Punch. You're looking at about $35 for a 750ml  bottle which I think is a BIT high but understandable, especially at 46%. If I could get it for $30 and change that'd be ideal. It's hard to find around me but if Jameson is <$24 for a 750ml, I'd be more likely to upgrade to this for that extra tenner.

(Sample bottle sent by Baddish Group.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial - Thursday, Jan. 22nd

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. Changing an aspect of your life shouldn't be something that's thought up while lying in bed on the 1st, hungover and coated in the remnants of appetizers and spilled drinks. It is something that requires thought and dedication which, frankly, I always find lacking when I can still taste whiskey on my breath. The only thing I'm motivated to do is brush my teeth and drink coconut water. I suppose that New Year's resolutions, even if people make them and forget about them a few weeks later, are at least a stepping stone towards the thought process of changing what you don't like in your life. I guess that's a pretty decent start.

For me, it means doing reviews again. Things lately have been...hectic. I've been diagnosed with an incurable illness and am on enough medication that I require one of those old man medicine strips to keep track of things. I haven't been drinking much lately and that's really including tea and coffee. I just drink water. Mainly because I have to keep very hydrated and also because the side effects of the medicine mean that water is really all I'm capable of drinking. It sucks, yes. But I'm still here and in far better spirits than I was.

Spirits. Get it? Because alcohol? C'mon, you missed me.

I'm sure you're saying to yourself at this point: "But Bacchus! You said you don't drink much any more and this is a review of champagne!" You'd be correct. A bottle of Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial was purchased to ring in the new year and I was finally able to pop it and enjoy it recently. And I figure, what a better way to present to you, dear readers, my New Year's resolution than with a bottle of damn fine champagne? So, here it goes. My New Year's resolution is to get back to posting on In With Bacchus. I know I've said it in the past and then disappeared...and I'm sorry for that. I am working on applying myself to this, and my gaming, website as often as I can. Things aren't easy for me but I don't think they're easy for anyone. But enough about me. Let's talk about this champagne, shall we?

According to the Moet & Chandon website, the grape statistics for this are:

40% - 50% Pinot Noir
30% - 40% Pinot Meunier
10% - 20% Chardonnay
Dosing (secondary fermentation sugar) at 45 g/L

This is the bottle. 

It's very classy looking. Classy enough that I did not feel worthy to hold it. I mean, it's champagne. A $56 bottle of champagne which, to me, is a lot. I'm on more of a methode champenoise budget. A bath-tub methode champenoise budget. From your crazy grandpa. Here are the notes:

Nose: Marzipan and honey. Green apple peels. Pineapple; juice but not fresh squeezed. A bit of yeast/bread but not baked bread, more like raw dough before you punch it down. Heather, maybe? There's a...piquante-ness to it I can't place. Not tannin but something cuts through it. Like a woody tang; maple syrup? Nope, it's vanilla extract.

Taste: Bit of heat at the forefront is chased away by baked green apples coated in honey. Very sweet. Candied grapefruit peel. A bit pedantic but..white grape-y. That primary "white grape" flavor hasn't been fermented out. Heat stays but carries with it a cracker taste that fades into a nice finish. If  that sweetness had maintained through it would be cloying. The Chard comes through on the end, man. Very buttery and pear-y. Straight up pear tart.

Overall, this is a very good champagne. I am more of a brut fan myself so the sweetness of it almost took me by surprise. The recommendations for food are all very rich, very fatty foods which I can't agree with because I feel it lacks the acidity to balance with them. So I'd solidly categorize this as a dessert champagne. It'd be best with bright, citrus-y foods like a sorbet/sherbet or some sort of citrus tart. I feel like it'd do well with maybe some not-too-sharp-but-rather-nutty cheese as well. Or, y'know, just in a glass at the end of a meal. Like this:

So cheers, all. And here's to a new beginning. Again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Templeton, The TTB, and You

There has been a whole lot of hullabaloo these days about label fidelity in the craft distilling industry. The main sights have been set on Templeton Rye whiskey, which has been dodging its label providence for some time and has finally been caught, but others have been called into question as well. The uproar in the whiskey geek community is one that I share, wholeheartedly. Distillers, both large and small MUST be held accountable for what they're putting in the bottle. I've been following it, and silently agreeing with it...but I've refrained from speaking out. Why bother adding another voice to the din of chatter parroting the same sentiment I have?

Recently, on Reddit, a discussion stemming from Chuck's work stemmed about the providence of Barterhouse bourbon. Finally, I caved. It's time I said something. But it's not what you think it's going to be. No long diatribes and half-cocked rants about the industry this time. It's time for me to help out. To put my resources to good. So here we go. I'm going to show you how to become more comfortable in your whiskey purchases, thanks to the good old internet. So, let's do this, shall we?

First, you're going to want to go here...and bookmark it. It's the big mamma-jamma, the book that all distillers eventually bow to. It's the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits and if you make a spirit and want to sell it, it's going to be classified into one of these categories by the TTB. Here's a brief glance:

It's long. It's wordy. It can be confusing. But, as a consumer, it's DAMN helpful. It will tell you what each category means, legally, and (more importantly) what it DOESN'T. The big debate on Reddit was the definition of straight and, in this case, Barterhouse Bourbon from the Orphan Barrel series. Now here's where I dig into my bag of tricks. The secret of all secrets. Are you ready?

Step 1: Go to the TTB website!

See that link in the red rectangle? Click it. It will bring you to this page.

Certificates of Label Approval (COLAs) will give you a lot of information about your whiskey. See that link there? Click on it. But you're not a distiller! You're not applying for a COLA! Don't worry, I got you on this.

Okay, you're here but you're worried about the login. Don't. See that little link up there? That SUPER IMPORTANT LINK FOR CONSUMERS? Click it and get ready for a wealth of information.

There it is. The consumer's best friend. Since I want to look for Barterhouse Bourbon, I typed it in and gave my best guess at the date range for the label approval. Click on the blue button...but pay attention to that red button. It's VERY important. It should bring you to a listing like this:

Time to go through the records! Two of them are for fortified wine and one is for Barterhouse but it's expired. However, the last one...

Is this. The technical aspects of the distilled spirit. You can't lie to the government. CAN but it's pretty hard. A good chunk of things are here. Ripe for the lookin'. You'll note that the listing type (in red) is BOURBON WHISKEY. Funnily enough, on their website, they call it a "Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey". So it's straight, right? meets the technical classifications. It's a bourbon. It's 2+ years. However...remember that little red box I said you should pay attention to? Click on it. It should bring you to this.

Hit the box in red. Now, check out the Type Code on the Barterhouse record listing picture. It's 141. However...the Type listing number for "straight bourbon whiskey" is...



Why isn't it listed as a straight bourbon whiskey? I don't know. But don't believe any of the hoopla that they put on websites or send out in press releases. So far, no one's been enforcing it. Now, I trust the government these days about as far as I can throw it...and there's a lot of people in it (and I have a bad back). However...I do trust their ability to bureaucratically keep records. So all the information I need is right here. And, now, all the information you need is as well.