Friday, November 9, 2012

What I Learned At Whisky Fest NYC

 "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." - Marcus Aurelius

I'm sure everyone expects, when I write up a post about an event, for me to do a blow by blow of the whole thing. If I followed the real journalism mentality, I'd definitely be doing that. But I'm not going to. As I read more and more Hunter S. Thompson, I realize that his style of journalism fits me much more comfortably. I love to tell stories. I love to hear stories, whether they pertain to the topic at hand or not. It's something I've always been keen on. When I'm on trains, or in airports, or anywhere with lots of people...I don't find myself worrying about crowds. I find myself wondering about everyone's life story. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What brought them there? I find that the truth of something is far better illustrated by not focusing on anything in particular. The crux of things comes to you as you experience it. And if that means blending fiction into it...all the better. A story is a story is a story, whether it's "just the facts, Jack" or a fairytale-esque analysis of the entire thing.With that said, let's begin.

1. New York City

Every time I visit NYC, my opinion of it fluxes. Sometimes I go down there and I think "there is no way I could ever live here". Other times I go down there and thing "there is no way I can't live here". The city reminds me greatly of Charles Bukowski's writing, actually. Bukowski is a beautiful, horrible man. If you've never read anything of his, I'd hesitantly encourage you to do so. It is graphic, I'll give it that. But it is frank. It's beauty lies in its simplicity, in its pureness of vision. He cuts no corners, he softens no blows. It is gritty and visceral. The same can be said of NYC as well. Its highs are euphoric and its lows are soul-crushing. I will explain.

After a hellishly gruelling session of heavy drinking on Saturday, I was finally free at 10:30pm to pursue my own thoughts and gather myself together. I was, oddly enough, very much sober which could not be said for some of the men walking out of the show. I went up to my room and changed out of my dress shoes. I took off the tie, popped the top two buttons on the shirt to vent some of the tropical heat that had been surrounding me in the ballroom. I slipped a Lucky Strike out of my pack and I went down to the smoking area. Lit it with my lighter...and I watched the city move. The melting pot of people that wandered about filled me with an indescribable feeling. A sense of frightening wonder: being miniscule. A tiny cog in a large machine. Living on Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot". All around me were people leading lives, striving for dreams. Stories waiting to be written but ever escaping the pen. Being the weekend before Halloween, costumes were abound. A troupe of Clockwork Orange droogs went up the escalator. A huge black guy dressed as Mario wandered about the lobby, talking on a cell phone before disappearing into a crowded elevator. A man dressed in a suit coated entirely in Nerds candy walked about with a cane outside, talking to some of the Whiskey Fest vendors who were breathing in the stale air outside. The ebb and flow of people funneling through that small covered alleyway almost overwhelmed me. Individual stories in the large book of the world constantly being written and erased. But as the heady euphoria peaked, then come the crash. A deaf man came by begging for money, of which I had none to give. I stood to go outside and complete my nightly ritual of two years: wishing upon a star. But when I stood between the theaters on Broadway...I couldn't see any. Instead was a murky sky filtered through the incandescent and LED lights representing the cheap and gaudy of Broadway. Highs and lows...highs and lows.

2. Reaffirmation

This shit...hasn't been easy. As I sit here typing this at 12AM on a Friday, I'm jobless, collecting unemployment, and generally feeling shitty. Having no job and having bills due is a terrible, terrible feeling. I've wondered, off and on, if going the direction I went was the right move. I COULD be sitting pretty with a steady $60k - $70k, health insurance, 401k optioned job. Chemical engineering could do that for me. But four years of studying it taught me that I hate it. I'd work at a job like that for about 5 years before hours spent grinding away at calculations in a cubicle would make me take a long walk off a short pier. But I've often thought "maybe I should just suck it up, get to the grindstone, and live life like that". Whisky Fest NYC made me say something far more simple:

"Fuck. That."

Beverage conferences, festivals, chats...they're always a huge boost for me in terms of morale. Wading through the bedecked booths as amber fountains of whisk(e)y pour from measured spouts makes me realize that, yeah, I'm doing the right thing. Chatting with industry legends, chatting with the up-and-comers, chatting with EVERYONE reaffirms the fact that distilling shit is in my blood and it will never go away. No amount of desktop calculations for fractionalization distillation columns for benzene or ammonia or natural gas could ever fulfill what I'm doing now. Seeing the smiles on people's faces as the glass rises to waiting lips, the liquid courses over taste buds, and the breath's magic. Handmade magic. And I get to be what I've always wanted to be, a wizard. A wizard in a magical land of huge horizons and endless creativity. My engineering knowledge isn't going to waste. I'm actually thinking more like an engineer than I actually realize. My problem was what I wanted to do with my life and the engineer's way of looking at alternate routes to a common goal was what I did. I'm still engineering things. I'm engineering liquid joy. And that's beautiful to me.

3. The Industry

I talked to a lot of people at Whisky Fest. Harlan Wheatley of Buffalo Trace. John Glaser of Compass Box. Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie/Ardbeg. I hung out with some people I had met previously (Lew Bryson, Dave Broom, Tim Welly of Hillrock, Nicole Austin of King's County) and some familiar but first meetings with others (John Hansell, Carmen Operetta, Dominic Roskrow, Robin Robinson, TRUMAN COX). And as I shook hands in the stifling heat of that ballroom, something occurred to me. I've never met a terrible person in this industry. Each has been kind, thoughtful, and happy. Those that knew I was looking for a job offered to help me find one, those that couldn't help offered a stiff dram and a hearty laugh. I don't know if it's my ability to pick out awesome people (HIGHLY doubtful) or if it's just the industry, on the whole, being amazing...but if I were a betting man, I'd have all my savings on the latter. It's an incredible field to be working in and the fact that ANYONE was interested in what I've done or what I had to say was huge. I won't lie. Quiet, happy tears were shed in a Marriott hotel room.

4. My Voice and My Break

As I've written these past few years, my writing style has changed. I go back and look at how I wrote and I realize that I've, frankly, cleaned myself up a bit. I swear a lot less often. My jokes are less frequent; I'm more serious, I guess. I enjoy my earlier writing but I suppose I've been hedging myself in to make my site more...user friendly. I should, really, be writing in an unfiltered fashion, viewers be damned. I am still trying to find my voice. I seem to be stuck between wanting to be recognized as someone versed in something and worth listening to...and not wanting to take things TOO seriously. I, in real life, curse like (borrowing from Peter Capaldi on this one) "a hairy-arsed docker after 12 pints". I filter myself because, frankly, I'd love for people to take me seriously and swearing like said aforementioned longshoreman won't get me far in that department. So, bear with folks. When I do post off and on (as of late, emphasis on 'off'), I may try new things. Might as well mix it up.

This brings me to my next point: the break. I feel like, at this point, I'm getting ready to crest the peak of a rollercoaster. Not in any way that means it's all downhill from here but in the sense that I can almost feel like something...something closing in. Something good...I hope. I'll post more on this in another post, probably, because it deserves one and it doesn't really have much to do with Whisky Live. But after attending the festival, I feel as if I've got a million options that are either just waiting to be explored or waiting for the right moment. Either way, I can feel it. I DONE SEENT IT.

5. The Gold Bowmore is AWESOME

-Bacchus out.

"Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In With Bacchus Guide To Picking A Bar

It is important for everyone to find their own special watering hole. I'm sure many of you immediately think of yours when I mention this. Maybe it's somewhere with great cocktails and a soothing atmosphere. Maybe its your favorite wine bar or tap house. Or maybe its dive-y as all hell. But no matter what it is...its yours. You go in and they know your name, what you want to drink, what songs you like to listen to. And for many, its a daunting task to pick out your place. For me, its taken many years to eke out my booze fueled haunts and I am picky as all hell. Being of Scottish blood, I like good deals. Being born with an expensive taste, I like good spirits. And being a man of good friends, I like a place where I can commiserate about the weeks occurrences over a pint. So it's taken me up until now (almost 4 years) to find the bars that I like to habit. But what about you, dear reader? Do you have a favorite bar? No? Oh dear.

It's daunting, I'll give it that. Finding the perfect bar for your tastes is no easy task. So, as an ambassador to fine drink (or not so fine drink, depending on your mood), I've decided to help you come up with a list of ways to analyze bars to see if they fit you. I'll be breaking them down into three categories: cocktail bars, dive bars, and normal bars. So, stick with me here.

Presenting...The In With Bacchus Guide to Picking YOUR Bar!

Cocktail Bars

Cocktail bars are, to me, the easiest to define. Where I am...there aren't many so it's not hard to choose from but the advice I'll give stands for any good cocktail bar.

  1. Find your "ratio" cocktail - To judge a cocktail bar, I first order what I prefer to call my "ratio" cocktail. For me, it's a Negroni. A three ingredient cocktail that seems simple on its surface but can easily be screwed up. Why? Because it's all about balance. Some cocktail bars measure for specific cocktails. GOOD cocktail bars measure for ALL cocktails. Bear in mind, making a cocktail is part art...and part science. The human taste buds can perceive chemical reactions within a drink that only occur at proper ratios. For some, their cornerstone drink is a martini. Deceptively simple...but without the correct ratio of gin to can be a disaster. For me, the Negroni is my cornerstone cocktail. At every new cocktail bar I go to, I order a Negroni. It's a 1:1:1 ratio of gin, vermouth, and Campari, with an orange peel garnish (flamed or not, their choice). It NEEDS to be measured; eyeballing it makes the cocktail undrinkable. If there's too much gin, the piney notes come through too much and the alcohol is overwhelming. Too much Campari leaves the drink too bitter. Too much vermouth makes it too sweet and waters down the gin to mask its botanicals. If measured with a jigger/pony, its a good cocktail. Without it...its not. The attention to detail is important. And don't think that you need to order a fancy cocktail to get this job done. A simple gin and tonic is equally fitting. Poor ratios of gin to tonic lead to either a weak drink or a drink akin to Pine-Sol. So find a "ratio" cocktail you like and order it.
  2. Sit at the bar, if you can - Its important to WATCH them make cocktails. For many in the shaker slingin' part of the booze business...they ENJOY making cocktails. Watch them make cocktails and check out their technique. Check out how they shake cocktails. Vim and vigor is good; it aerates the cocktail and partially dilutes it for a smoother, rounder taste. A lackluster shake makes for a lackluster cocktail. Yet again, pay attention to the measurements. Also...see if they're tasting your cocktail. The common move is to take one of those tiny cocktail straws, dip it into the cocktail, and put a finger on the end. This locks some of the cocktail into the straw by vacuum and allows the maker to taste the drink without actually having to drink it. This is important too. No bartender can get a drink perfect every time during the night. The process of checking cocktails to ascertain balance, flavor, and viscosity means you're dealing with a serious cocktail bar worthy of attention.
  3. Go during an off time and order a drink - And by "order a drink" I don't mean "I'll have an X." I mean custom build a drink. Chat with the bartenders, ask them about stuff. Ask them to make you a cocktail. Start with a base spirit and then give descriptors of what you're hankerin' for: sweet, tart, bitter, herbal, minty...whatever. Let the bartender stretch his imagination and come up with a drink for you. It'll give you a feel for the creativity of the staff and their knowledge of the back bar. But ONLY do this when it's not busy. Not even remotely busy. Because if you do it when its busy...I will punch you because my drinks come out slow.

Dive Bars

Dive bars are difficult, depending on your definition of a dive bar. For some, a dive bar is a relatively sedate little run-down bar that serves cheap drinks. The atmosphere is relaxed, its filled with haggard locals that occupy the same barstool every night, and the decor is usually neon beer signs, Christmas lights, and pin-up girls. For's an all-out shitshow bar. Potential fights are always a plus. Scurvy bathroom an added bonus. Obvious joints being rolled on the bar and no one cares. THAT'S a dive bar to me. So here's some tips to pick out your Port Royale of a dive bar.

  1. What's Their Cheap Beer? - What you're looking for here is a cheap, American style light adjunct lager. And you want it as blue collar as it comes. The eponymous blue collar beer is PBR which, while highly maligned by many as a "hipster" beer, is an awesome beer when its cold. PBR in cans is a must but regional blue collar beers are always a plus. Iron City, Lone Star, Genessee Cream Ale, Narragansett. Be wary of bars whose cheap adjunct beers are Keystone or Budweiser. Keystone is a sign that you may be facing a significant "bro" crowd at any given point and Budweiser means you may face a sports rush during the year. These are all good in cans (tallboys preferable) with tap being a bonus.
  2. What's the Music Like? - Check out the jukebox. Does it jive with your tastes? How many pages does it have? And how much is it per play? All important things to monitor and note. See if the bar rotates the selection as well. If there's no jukebox, see if they do live music. Check to see how much the cover is for bands and if they're in your genre(s) of choice. If there's no live music and its just someone with an iPod and speakers...ask for a request for a song you like. If they don't have it...not a great sign but no one has everything. If they've never HEARD of it...might be time to move on.
  3. Room to Breathe...And Smoke - Smoker or non, check out the people standing outside smoking. It gives a good idea of the clientele at the bar. My bar's patrons generally have chain wallets, lots of tattoos barely hidden under white Ts or jean jackets, and slicked back hair. I frequent a rockabilly bar. And it's awesome. But the people outside will give you a decent overview on who to expect inside. Not all-encompassing...but a fair glimpse into the bar's lifestyle.
  4. The Head - Check out the bathroom. It should be skeevy...but moderately clean. Skeevy in this situation refers to the amount of shit on the walls. Not LITERAL shit...but figurative shit. Band stickers, graffiti, witty bathroom stall banter...all important. 
  5. Drink Specials - You want to find out how much a beer and a shot will run you. The acceptable way to get drunk at all bars, a cheap can/mug of cold beer and a shot of well whiskey is what you should price out. See what the well whiskey is. If they serve Old Granddad, opt for that instead of well if you're feeling spendy. Also check for happy hour or post happy-hour deals. Here's one from my local: 

      Check that out. It's important.

Normal Bars

 Normal bars is a broad stroke but this will help to narrow it down. Stick with these and you'll be able to find one lickety split.

  1. Order A Draft Beer - But not one of the popular ones. If they've got standard beers with a couple craft beers, get a craft beer. The purpose of this isn't just to buck the's to check out their beer lines. A good bar (and by that I mean a legal bar) has to clean their beer lines often and thoroughly. By getting a beer that might not sell as fast, you can tell how well they keep their lines. If the beer tastes off (sour, extremely bitter, funky), that means that the lines haven't been cleaned. If it tastes kinda like soap or has a very slick mouthfeel, this means that they probably cleaned the lines but didn't flush it well enough with water, then beer. Poor tap management is a sign of a bad bar. It doesn't take much to clean beer lines.
  2. Order A Glass of Wine - Much like the beer, order a glass of wine in your preference. Taste it. Does it taste slightly raisiny or heavily of dark fruit for a red wine? Does a white wine taste flat and bland? This probably means that they're keeping the wine around long enough to let it oxidize. Yet another sign of a bad bar.
  3. Face Time - Yet again, sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders. Get to know them. Are they personable? Friendly? Helpful? As long as you don't make your demands outlandish, are they accommodating? Its important to find staff that you're comfortable with and are comfortable with you. 

There you have it. Not exactly exhaustive, nor even remotely complete in my eyes. I'll probably add to it as I go. If you have any suggestions, comments, or concerns, let me know by contacting me. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Bacchus out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Small Barrel Maturation (RE: Buffalo Trace)

Today, after making a cup of coffee, I decided to check my email. And OH WHAT SURPRISES IT HELD. Normally, I get a metric shit-ton of press releases that I generally don't post on here. If it's interesting enough, I'll inquire about it a bit more to get information to keep me up to date with beverage portfolios...but usually you don't see press releases in In With Bacchus. But today...I got a gem of a press release that I can't help but share with you fine folks. Fresh from Buffalo Trace's mouth:


Apparently, Size Does Matter!
FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Aug. 22, 2012) Sometimes, not all experiments are successful. Buffalo Trace Distillery learned this the hard way with its small barrel experiments started in 2006. 
                Using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels, the company filled each small barrel with the same mash bill (Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1) around the same time, and aged them side by side in a  warehouse for six years.
                The results were less than stellar.  Even though the barrels did age quickly, and picked up the deep color and smokiness from the char and wood, each bourbon yielded less wood sugars than typical from a 53 gallon barrel, resulting in no depth of flavor.
                While Buffalo Trace is NOT releasing these experiments, the Distillery did feel it was important to release their findings. The company hopes others can learn from such an experiment, just as they have. 
                “As expected, the smaller 5 gallon barrel aged bourbon faster than the 15 gallon version. However, it’s as if they all bypassed a step in the aging process and just never gained that depth of flavor that we expect from our bourbons.  Even though these small barrels did not meet our expectations, we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes,” said Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley.
                Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, then left alone to continue aging, hoping the taste would get better with time.  Finally, after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to chalk up the experiment to a lesson learned. 
                “These barrels were just so smoky and dark, we just confirmed the taste was not going to improve.  The largest of the three barrels, the 15 gallon, tasted the best, but it still wasn’t what we would deem as meeting our quality standards.  But instead of just sweeping this experiment under the rug and not talking about it, we felt it was important to share what we learned, especially in light of the debate about usage of small barrels.  It’s one experiment we are not likely to repeat,” said Wheatley.      
These small barrel experiments are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery. 

Jesus, where to begin on this one. I think this is the first time I've had to make a list to accurately and orderly summarize my complaints. So here we go.

"aged them side by side in a warehouse for six years" 

It is a relatively easy exercise to calculate the volume of a barrel. In fact, the great Johannes Kepler managed to extract a formula to accurately measure the volume of a barrel. The Kepler Formula for the Volume of a Barrel (in "Nova Stereometria doliorum vinariorum", written in 1615) states that the formula of a barrel is as such:

Courtesy of Wolfram Mathematica
with r2 being the larger, outer radius (the apex of the barrel) and r1 being the minima radius of the barrel. This, in essence, is a summation of thin cylindrical shells bounded by certain restraints (see solid of revolution). Since it would be difficult to measure the radius of a barrel without taking half of it apart (and potentially skewing the results), the easiest way to do this would be to take the circumference at the top of the barrel, as well as the middle, and then divide by 2*pi. Why? Because the circumference of a circle is 2*pi*r. So:

C = 2 * pi * r
C / (2*pi) = r

Why am I going through this lengthy mathematical explanation? To prove a simple point. Anyone that's not an idiot should be able to tell that the surface area to volume ratio of those barrels, barring ANY internal tampering (such as woodpeckering, honeycombing, grooving, what have you) is higher than your standard barrel. such...LEAVING IT FOR SIX YEARS IS A DUMB IDEA. This is the equivalent of cracking eggs into different size glasses and then leaving them on a hot window sill to see if they'll be fine to eat in six weeks. Of course they won't. That's dumb. I find this incredibly ironic that the study of over-oaking whiskies is coming from the company that makes probably the most polarizing, oldest commercially available bourbon in the US, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old.

Ideally, if following the same "egg in glass" parallel, you'd want to see when the egg turns bad during the course of the experiment. Not just reporting what happened at the end. Which brings me to my next point...

"..Announces Small Barrel Experiments Are Failures."

Okay...let's chat about science. For a company that used to have one of my idols behind its analytical chemistry labs, Truman Cox...this is kind of a slap in the face. If it's ANYTHING like the "Small Barrels Make Bad Whiskey" piece done in collaboration with Chuck Cowdery...then there's nothing scientific at all. When I worked at Tuthilltown, I did stuff like testing barrels every day. Yet you don't see me sending out PR things about it claiming that it's science. Where's the data? Where's your scientific method? What methods did you use to reduce / eliminate inconsistencies. Seriously, where is your CONCRETE data. If you presented the world with sheet after sheet of GC / MS chemical make-ups of the whiskies as they aged and compared to older products...I'd be curious. If you followed that up with double blind tasting studies with a 10,000+ tasting panel for consistency...I'd be more intrigued. If you could chemically prove WHY its bad using all of this data in a nice, neat, summarized paper...I'd take you seriously. But when you blast out emails saying "Yeah, we tasted it every once and awhile until we hit 6 years and it was so foul we couldn't drink it. So small barrels are bad."...I cannot take you seriously nor respect you. At all. AT. ALL. If I may borrow from Patton Oswalt here...
"You have to acknowledge everyone's beliefs and then you have to reserve the right to go "that's fucking stupid."...I have an uncle that believes he saw Sasquatch. We do not believe him NOR do we respect him."

Look, you can't call something like than an experiment and have it carry weight. When I was young, I thought that I could make something that would protect screws from rusting by mixing talcum powder with soap. I'd experiment by spreading that on the screws of my bathroom door and, son of a bitch, they'd rust every time. So if I state that it was impossible to make screws rust proof using that as my data...I'd be an idiot. Which is kind of what you're doing right now.

"...Distillery did feel it was important to release their findings"


Why did they feel it was important to send this out? What motivated them to send out a press release that contains no scientific back-up to everyone on their PR list? What are they hoping to achieve? Are they seriously thinking that, by sending that out, every small distiller out there will go "WHOOP, BETTER SWITCH TO BIG BARRELS." And "release their findings" is very strong wording, frankly. More like "tell you what we think in a very vague and non-clinical way." If it's because of this:

"...we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes"

I don't believe you. I mean, if they want to take pot-shots at small distillers that are using smaller barrels to make product quicker...fine. Go for it. You've got the right, frankly. You've been doing the distilling thing forever and you make fantastic product. I would climb a mountain of slaughtered foes for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. I might even throw my own mother in front of a train for a bottle of the 20. I'd literally have to sit down and discuss it with her. But this press release will not just do will make you look bad. I'm already seeing it make its way through the craft distilling community. They're not particularly happy.

Look Buffalo Trace. I love you. Hell, if you offered me a job working on small barrel maturation...I'd totally do it. Maybe inject some REAL science into this. I love your products and I love you. But please...don't do this. It just infuriates me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

FOCO Thai Tea Drink - Wednesday, Aug. 1st

Lately (as you may have noticed), I haven't been doing a whole lot of drinking. I've been keeping it pretty low-key as a lot of the post-surgical meds I'm on say "DO NOT DRINK." This generally means, to me, something along the lines of "proceed with caution" but one of the new ones I'm on is actually a blood pressure medicine so I've been super cautious. And by super cautious, I mean I haven't touched the sauce.

What I HAVE been touching is pretty much every pre-made, bottled tea drink known to mankind. The Arnold Palmer line has come out with some interesting ones. Like the distinctly non-Arnold Palmer drink called "The Honey Bear", which is lemonade with honey. Rather tasty (review soon if I can find some Barenjager to put in it). What I've been drinking a lot of due to my fierce addiction to Thai Tea.

Thai tea, according to Wikipedia is: "a drink made from strongly-brewed black tea. Other ingredients may include added orange blossom water, star anise, crushed tamarind seed or red and yellow food coloring, and sometimes other spices as well. This tea is sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served chilled." Much to Hermes' delight, this is technically correct; the best kind of correct. What they forget to mention is the liberal inclusion of what I can only assume to be extreme habit forming drugs into said concoction. Because I can't stop drinking it.

FOCO Thai Tea Drink is one of the many available pre-made Thai tea drinks available at your finest Asian grocery. It is, in my opinion, one of the best as it only requires a healthy shake and some fridge chillage to be the perfect beverage. Some of the other available beverages need to be damn near centrifuged before the milky lumps decide to go back into emulsion. It's simple can tells you everything you need to know about the beverage:

This is A) it's Thai tea. And B) it is delicious (as noted by the sweaty glass full of it). Real men drink it out of the can, however. We then crush the ungodly strong can with our bear-trap like hands and then light it on fire with our laser vision. Or recycle it, depending on "love of the earth" status. Okay, enough yammering on. I'll tell you how it tastes.

The FOCO brand lacks what is traditionally a quality sign in Thai tea: BRIGHT ORANGE COLOR. It's more of a slightly orange coffee. But it makes up for it in taste. It is VERY sweet and creamy. The tea itself is muted, if not non-existant thanks to the inclusion of a plethora of spices. Definitely cardamom, a faint touch of star anise, cloves and vanilla? Not sure. It's tough to pin them down because the cardamom and clove is so strong. It's like a slightly different version of chai. But there's something about it that makes me love it more than chai. Perhaps its the fact that its so damn sweet (I have a sweet tooth). Maybe it's the generous helpings of milk and/or cream that make it almost silky. Maybe its the massive amounts of crack they add to it and don't tell you. Either way, it's delicious. And you should try it.

I know a good dealer, man. He's got the good shit. You can find him here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Drew Estate Undercrown Belicoso - Sunday, June 10th

It is officially the opening of cigar season here at In With Bacchus HQ. Do you need some proof? Here's some proof:

Look at that. Beautiful. Sun shining, fair humidity, mild temperatures, and nice breezes. The rain comes in spurts but when it's nice's NIIIIICE out. Today was a touch humid but I needed a cigar. Let me explain.

The past month and a half of surgical recovery have been...arduous. Trying. Okay...shitty. I was planning on doing a whole bunch of cigar reviews while I was down but I was miserable for the entire time. I was constantly in pain and it was pretty hard to enjoy anything. Sparking up a cigar would have been a waste. The best analogy I can come up with would be eating your favorite pizza...smeared in dog crap. I mean, it's your favorite pizza...and you COULD do it...but it would be a waste of pizza and it would just be horrible. So I refrained. And I'm glad I did.

Today I sparked up the much lauded Drew Estate Undercrown, in the Belicoso size. Normally, a belicoso really isn't my cup of tea. Weighing in at 6 inches by 52's a little out of my comfort zone. My speed is more of a corona size. But when I went to Habana Premium in was either the Belicoso, the Gran Toro...or the Gordito. So...the least of three evils, I guess. Like I said, not my favorite size...but it was an admirable smoke. Here she is in all of her glory:

Mmmmmm, delicious lookin. But enough chit chat, let's get down to the nitty gritty here.

Prelight draw: Cedar, barnyard, and clean, sweet tobaccy. Beautiful, really.

First quarter:

This is the ONLY cigar that has the flavor of its aroma. You can pick up a cigar and smell it. It's sweet, delicious tobacco but generally...that's not what it tastes like when you smoke it. For the did. It had that mature, sweet tobacco taste come through in the first quarter. Couple this with a hefty dose of mole: chocolate, cinnamon, and pepper. Layered with rich leather like a new car interior. Gods above...what a smoke. The tobacco sweetness, the chocolate and spice rack...delicious.

Half way: 

Half way point sees it taming down. Leather is still there, along with some of the chocolate. A barnyard-y, earthiness comes in as well. The sweet tobacco taste is gone, however; gently fading out as the cigar ticked downward. A shame...but it lingers on the palate pretty well so it may be gone but it's not forgotten. The complexity has ramped down quite a bit but it's still quite pleasant.

Third quarter:

Bit of palate fatigue at this point so my notes are a bit skewed. Still rocking the bodacious leather. Some of that tobacco sweetness comes back but it's more of a fermented, cured tobacco sweetness. I dunno, it's hard to describe the difference between the aroma of tobacco and the taste of tobacco. Sorry.Complexity has left but it's still a solid smoke. Started getting a bit bitter but I was chugging away on it towards the end because...well...

I was relaxed.

For the first time in a month and a half, despite lashings of painkillers and anti-anxiety meds...I relaxed. I had planned to do some reading while I smoked this (not unusual when I do cigar reviews; catching up on booze news while burning one down is a treat) but...I read a few pages and put the magazine down. I just sat there, either staring at the cigar or watching the wildlife. At peace.

I paid $11.90 for this cigar. And I regret NOTHING. It was worth sending my hard earned money to NY in the form of it's ridiculous tax just for this cigar. And I bought two. Regret. Nothing. It's a fine cigar. Not in my usual bracket of intensity (I'd put it at a solid medium body) but honestly...I think I like this better than the Liga line. Don't get me wrong...I love the Liga line. It's a haymaker of a blend but, much like a well-landed's a one and done kind of thing. If I could afford to buy these at $11.90...I could easily do a few of these a day, much like, I'm sure, the rollers that created the blend do (lucky bastards). So yes, worth the money, worth the smoke...and almost worth the month and a half long wait.


C' was a shitty month and a half. Gimme a break.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Three Year Retrospective

As of yesterday, this blog is three years old. Three years. That's a long time. Do I think it ironic that I find myself in the exact same medical situation that I was in when I started this blog? Not really. I went through the same surgery that I referenced here about a month ago and I'm still recovering. I actually found out / decided today to prolong my convalescence an extra 3 to 5 weeks to avoid some nasty...technicalities. A decision I make with a heavy heart but with the best of intentions. It seems that it's the summer of '09 all over again.

But then's not. From the short quips and constant swearing of my first posts, this blog has blossomed into something far bigger than I ever imagined it ever would be. I covered Whisky Lives and the IPCPR. I've gone from being a budding Chemical Engineer to holding a Masters in Brewing and Distilling Science. Things have certainly changed, even though my predicament (once again) is the same. If you will allow me, dear readers, I'd like to wax nostalgic and philosophical on you. This is what I've learned in the three years of running this slapdash blog.

Embrace Honesty

If there's one thing that I've learned it's that honesty is best. I could be trite and say "honesty is the best policy" but hearing "policy" makes me think of something pinned to a cork board in the employee lounge of Sam's Club and frankly, that's depressing. So let's just stick with "Honesty is best." You may note that I've caused my fair share of controversy that continues to this day. I won't mention names, or quotes, or even links but I'm sure that if you search hard enough, you'll find what I'm talking about. I'm not afraid to post bad reviews, nor call out injustices I see going on. I try to be as frank with you as I can because, well, that's who I am. And I'd like to think that my website reflects that. Sure, it's cost me. I can measure that in dollars and cents. But I don't really care. The fact that I can speak my mind and potentially help people make informed choices about what they consume totally makes the $100 I spend a year on this website worth it. That and the search terms people use to find it. TOTALLY worth it. Seriously though, if I have ever influenced your purchases, I'd like to know. And thank you for listening to me. I try to be honest and constructive with my feedback and I'm always trying to better reach my readers and fine-tune things. So if you have any criticisms...let me know. I like honesty whether I'm spittin' it or you are. So lay it on me.

Take Risks

I suppose its easy (and honestly, a bit cavalier) for me to say this because I'm only 24 and I've got time to iron out my screw-ups. This, this is true. But from 7 to 75, I'd still tell you to take risks. When I first started this blog, I was a junior in Chemical Engineering. Three years later finds me a MSc in Brewing and Distilling Science. Was it a huge risk? You bet. Giving up an engineer's salary for one half that. Taking out a $32,000 loan and traveling half-way across the world. Dedicating myself to a calling that would earn me several inquiries as to whether I need AA. Do I regret it?

Not one bit.

It not only taught me a lot about my field but a lot about myself. It taught me my strengths (few) and my weaknesses (many). It showed me what I was capable of doing and what I wasn't capable of doing. And, sure, it cost money. But I came out all the better for it. I had my ups and downs throughout but I worked through it. I had my times of doubt and "what am I doing with my life" but I persevered. And as I stand now, I'm pretty happy with what I've done. So I urge you...take risks. Stretch yourself. Test yourself. Best yourself and learn from your defeat. It makes you stronger, quicker, and more secure. Remember: what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Unless you're already super strong. Like, Hulk strong. Then I got nothin' for ya. It didn't kill ya, I guess? Silver lining?
Love What You Do

Yes, there's the cliche saying of "if you love your work, it isn't work" or something along those lines. Sappy but true. I suppose this section ties in with the "take risks" part as well. Always be constantly defining what you want to do. Not what's expected of you, not what you're trained to do. What YOU want to do. Training can be acquired and people that expect you do something can politely (but firmly) be told to fuck off. You are never too young or too old to start. If I can include a wee touch of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" here:

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                                Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Death is ever present, ever watching, ever waiting. The countdown of our lives is ever ticking down to zero. And there is no beautiful, grand finale waiting for us all. There is no orchestra to play us off; no choir to sing our worldly deeds. The times of heralds and bards are dead. When we go, we go; as a whisper on the wind. So it's up to you, dear reader, to make the time you're given "the bang". Because you won't get it at the end.

Broaden Your Horizons

For the longest time, I was all malt. No, I'm not talking about homebrewing. I'm talking about what I was drinking. Whatever passed my lips for the longest time was only made of the grain. Barley, wheat, rye, corn. Beer, bourbon, whiskey, whisky; I was naively focused. But then I tried something here that wasn't grain based. Then I tried something else that wasn't grain based. I delved deeper into vodkas. I started into rums. I hit the absinthe pretty hard. Gin, liqueurs, amaros. And not only did I find a whole bunch of awesome, tasty beverages that I wouldn't have found otherwise...but it helped me to sharply define my palate. Drinking the same flavors over and over wasn't helping me define them; they needed context. So always keep an open eye to everything. Frank Zappa, bless his Muffin Man soul, gave us the quote "The mind is like a parachute: it works best when open." And damn it, he's right. My ignorance and self-limitations did me no favors. And don't let it limit you like it did to me.

Admit Your Flaws and Try to Fix Them

Here they are:
1. I don't post regularly enough
2. I don't post about cigars as much as I'd like
3. I don't post about tea as much as I'd like
4. I take terrible photos.

There. I said it. It's out in the open. It KILLS me that I don't write more. For some reason, I just can't find the motivation. Not sure where it went; maybe it went into my career? Maybe it evaporated? I dunno. All I know is that I just never post, even though I have something like 50 posts saved in Draft that, with a bit of writing to round it out and adding the pictures, I could post. But I don't. And I have no clue why.

As for cigars, they're a more seasonal thing for me. It's just starting to become cigar weather which is good, and hopefully I'll be able to do a lot of reviews over the summer to catch up. Also, now I have a designated smoking spot where I won't be interrupted or stared at like some sort of caged animal. That's good. You'd think for how much Scotland smokes, they wouldn't give the stink eye to a guy trying to smoke a cigar. But I digress. I do try to keep as involved in the community as possible through Twitter but, truth be told, I'm all talk until summer rolls around. So forgive me for that. But that's just the way it's gonna have to be until I get an apartment I can smoke in.

As for's complicated. Without going into to much detail, I'm drinking a lot of tea at work these days but I can't discuss it. When I do drink tea outside of work, it's generally nothing special. An iced chai from Starbucks. Sweet tea from McDonalds. Not special stuff, really. I do have some lingering pu erh and a bunch of samples from Harney that I have to go through (I ran a train on the last of their 2010 Darjeelings awhile back before the 2011 crop came in). And now that I have the Zojirushi back from work, perhaps I'll fire it up.

But mainly here, I'll try to work on motivation. I'm not sure how yet...but if you have any ideas, PLEASE email me. Actually, even if you don't have any ideas, email me. I LIKE emails. I don't get them frequently. Email me. I like chatting with my readers. And maybe I can share what little knowledge I have. Actually, the more you email me to post, the more likely I would be to do it. So let's go with that. Feel free to spam me with emails to get me to post. Please.

Write Your Retrospective BEFORE the Date of Your Anniversary, Not Way After

Yeah......about that....
Bacchus, out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Snapple Snap Tea Green Tea - Tuesday, May 16th

As my convalescence comes to a close, I've decided to catalog the tea that has sustained me throughout the ordeal. The British are right, really. A cup (or several gallons) of tea will fix things. Normally, I'm a sweet tea man when the chips are down. Strong brewed cheap black tea, plastic cup with ice, and enough sugar to kill an army of Wilfred Brimleys. But since green tea is all sorts of good for you, and I AM on medical leave, I figured I'd try to work a bit of that in there as well.



You caught me.

It was on sale.

Snapple decided to release gallon jugs of its "Snap Tea". Information on it is sparse. Well, nonexistent, actually. It's not even on their website. I remember seeing it in green and black tea flavors and, if I remember correctly, a GALLON was a buck and change. Maybe $1.59? Under $2, I'm sure.  Obviously trying to test it out on a market. When grocery time came around and I requested "MORE TEA", this showed up in all of it's mass quantity glory. Don't believe me. Fine. Here. Prepare to eat humble pie:

Made with HFCS, sadly, but it was CHEAP. And served ice cold, it's not too bad. But it's no green tea. Not at all.

See that wee little sentence that says "Flavored with other natural flavors"? The flavor, I guess, they were going for...was melon. It tastes pretty much like either cantaloupe or the rind of a watermelon. The only thing that hints that there's tea (concentrate) in it is the fact that after about a half of a glass your mouth, lips, and throat are coated in a tannin pucker that you could crush marbles with. Drink enough and it's difficult to swallow; the tannins just catch in the back of your throat and form a phalanx against anything that dares try to pass.

That being hasn't really slowed me down. That jug up top is almost empty. Thrown on ice you barely notice the tannic nature and, frankly, I kinda enjoyed the surprise melon flavor. But don't buy it expecting a light green tea experience. Would I buy it again? No, not what I want. It was a (surprising) change of pace that broke things up for me (I've been drinking sweet tea and a gallon of water every day for three weeks) so that was nice...but it's not really tea. I'll probably try and find the black to try that out and see how it goes. Maybe...hopefully...better.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What I Learned At ADI 2012

As with a lot of my coverage, I could give you a play by play of exactly what went down at ADI. I could...but I won't. First off, it's kinda boring (to me at least). Lew Bryson did a far better job of it for John Hansell's "What Does John Know" blog than I could so I'll give him that credit. He deserves it. Instead, I think I'll do what I did for my IPCPR Coverage back in 2010. This is simply "What I Learned At ADI".

Lesson #1:

 The craft distilling community is a unique one and it is at an interesting position. For the longest time, it seems as if the craft distilling movement was a "shoot from the hip" kind of thing. You tried things; they worked or they didn't. You tried again and again until you got something right: easily produced, aged, and the customer wanted it. But what I'm seeing now is a turning point. As you may know from reading my last post, I did a presentation on Small Barrel Realities, which is the chemical changes behind maturation in small barrels. If you want to check it out, the link to the slides is here. The sheer amount of interest in the article (I mean, LEW BRYSON covered it) means that we've hit a point in which many craft distillers are turning away from trial and error but rather towards a systematic, scientific approach. Based on the amount of people that mobbed me at the stage after the talk, while walking around the conference for the few hours after, and those that approached me even while I was out at the bars (I'm talking about you, bearded dude at the Seelbach), it seems like the craft guys are really hungry to get their hands dirty with the nitty gritty molecular stuff of what they're doing. And I think that's fabulous. I feel that, in order to expand and grow, you need to take a fresh look at what you're doing from a different angle. And if that angle is science, then I'm glad to help.

Lesson #2:

The craft distilling community is a unique one for a different reason. First off, the diversity of backgrounds of distillers, malsters, mashers, and every position under the sun is incredible. People that gave up solid jobs to heed the calling of a higher (more booze sodden) power. People that fell into the job with no prior experience. Homebrewers, economics graduates; they run the gamut. But the really cool thing?

They're all pretty damn nice.

They are encouraging, helpful, and insightful. Some of the questions asked of me were borderline dumbfounding in the best of ways. The bearded guy at the Seelbach asked a question that I could base my PhD on (not telling you). They're willing to share: knowledge, expertise, and new products. They are warm, friendly, and, remarkably, pretty sober for people that work in this industry. It triggers an awe-inspiring feeling, actually. While walking into the Brown Hotel bar for the first time, being mobbed by others in my profession...I found an odd sense of peace and acceptance. They were my people, and I theirs. A fascinating feeling to have that left me pretty giddy. If I had any doubt I was in the wrong profession, four days at the ADI conference erased that.

Lesson #3:

The gods above gave us two ears and one mouth. Some say that they want us to listen twice as much as you talk. Even though I gave a 25 minute, continuous talk...I'm pretty sure I listened six times as much as I talked. At a convention like this, you keep your ears and mind open. You learn things. You're given experiences. Don't take that for granted. Shut up and listen, you WILL learn something. Usually many somethings if you're in the right place at the right time.

Lesson #4:

I don't honestly think I say this enough: have I ever mentioned how lucky I am to work at Tuthilltown? I'm really lucky to work at Tuthilltown. REALLY. LUCKY. The fact that they flew me out there, paid for me to stay there, paid me to talk, and then flew me back astounds me. The fact that they put so much faith in my minute knowledge astounds me even more. After being an engineering student where, pretty much, you're taught you're not worth much until you've got 10 years experience in the's a crazy feeling to have someone trust and value your input and output from the get-go. How I fell into a job at Tuthilltown I'll never known...but I'm pretty stunned I did.

Lesson #5:

Be ever ready to drink. Ever. Ready. And don't forget water.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Let's face it: I'm no expert.

I'm not a "guru" or a "master". Hell, I'm barely "proficient" in wood maturation. I know, for the most part, what science has found out and I've got enough working chemistry to kinda guess at the rest. Like I said, I'm nothing even remotely close to an expert.

So being asked to speak at the American Distillers Institute Conference in Kentucky on "Small Barrel Realities" is kind of amazing for me. Being ground under the heels of unrelenting engineering professors who instill in us, pretty much, that we don't know anything and never's odd to have someone WANT my opinion. Let alone pay for it. Strange things. Strange times.

What this is a piss-poor, self-defacing lead in to is that yes, Virginia, I am presenting (in less than a week, mind you) at the ADI conference in Louisville, Kentucky on small barrel maturation. If you are registered to go to the conference, I strongly urge you to attend. I'd love feedback and to meet some of the very few, very proud (very crazy) people that continue to read my insane ramblings from time to time. I'd be more than willing to sit down for a drink somewhere and discuss what I do, where I do it, and with whom I do it with.

...Get your mind out of the gutter.

For those of you who won't be attending, fear not. I'm hoping to make the slides available in some form or another. I will probably even do a voice over recording of the actual talk and make that available in some form as well. Since it's technically Tuthilltown may have to pay for it. But you'll be supporting me and showing me how much you love me, which is EVER so important to my ego. So, in short...

1. I will be gone from the 1st of April until the 4th of April. I am praying that I get to the airport and my boss doesn't go "GOTCHA!"

2. I will be presenting, along with another colleague named John David Jeffery of Death's Door Distillery on a topic entitled "Small Barrel Realities", which will discuss the impact that small barrels have on wood maturation.

3. I will be making the slides, and a voice-over for them, available in some format. It might be on the website, it might be through the Tuthilltown online store. Not sure.

4. I will be up for drinks. As long as you're paying. I AM Scottish, after all.

5. I will be bringing an extra large suitcase and packing as few clothes as I can get away with. Daddy wants a bottle of that Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. That and tobacco tax in Kentucky is stupid low. LUCKY STRIKES FOR EVERYBODY!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

White Lion Very Special Old Arrack - Sun. March 18th

For me, my thesis was quite the learning experience, mainly in a two-fold manner. First, four months of exhaustive research on barrel aging and wood effects has provided me a solid backbone for what I do today. Second, because I got analytical samples from several companies for GC-MS comparison, I got a wee nip of some spirits that have really pushed boundaries for me. This is one of them.

When you're in Scotland, it's easy to get stuck in a whisk(e)y rut. I'd been drinking whisky and whiskey for close to almost a year straight (HA PUN). We had a bit of rum in there one night but the majority of my consumption was barley based: beer and whisk(e)y. So I had gotten into a comfortable, albeit staid, position of what I was drinking. Then along came Tim Olsen. I reached out to Tim on Twitter in the hopes of getting an analytical sample of a spirit I had never even heard of, much less tasted. Arrack is what I needed, which is a beverage made out of coconut flower sap collected in large pots that is wild fermented and distilled in pot stills. Tim was kind enough to send along a substantial volume of his White Lion VSOA for me to "analyze" (he was vague on this) and he told me that it would be imported to the US soon. I needed it for lab testing but since Tim sent me such a large sample, who was I to pass up an opportunity to try something new. And baby, it shook me. It was the wake-up call I needed. It fueled the fire of branching out into rums, into calvados, into cognac. Into things not influenced by the alluring touch of my good pal John Barleycorn.

Literally a blank bottle. The label I put on there to keep me from confusing it with a blended scotch I had.
Here is a picture of the sample bottle. You find, when you start receiving samples, you get two kinds of samples. One sample is the full bottle, picture pretty. It's nice but I rarely need a full bottle, unless its something that I want to tinker with in drinks or in high balls. The the random sample. Bottles of all shapes, sizes, and previous uses. I've gotten stuff in Ball jars, TSA approved plastic shampoo bottles (clean), small vials that distinctly would look like drugs if it hadn't had a picture of the bottle laminated on with clear tape, and all sorts of miscellany. I like them better. They got character; pizzazz. I won't lie. I give the samples that come to my door a rating on the ol' pizzazz scale. But I digress. Here's the notes.

Nose: Almost rum-like. Heavy molasses. Touch of sulfur and a little pot still funk, like a Jamaican rum. Nice fruit bouquet in there: pineapple, mango, exotic fruits.

Taste: Mango and pineapple. Watermelon? Raspberries too. Definitely a fruity spirit. Almost like a fruit infused honey. A little hot and prickly on the finish but overall agreeable. Tim LIES. It's quite good.

I am intrigued. To be honest, I've never had arrack before and I was a little scared when Tim said that it was pretty rough and tumble but it's a fine beverage. Would I buy it? Sure would, depending on the price. It's an import so import taxes can be a bear but I could see myself putting down $20-$25 for a bottle to see what concoctions I could make with it. I think the crux of the spirit is the fact that it has NONE of the traditional malt characteristics and, since it uses a sap as it's fermentation bill, it's got a whole lot more chemical processes to go through, resulting in different flavors. And the fruit forward nature of it, with such intensity, makes it pretty cool.

Bear in mind that this is the batch from...gosh...almost a year ago so things may have changed. But I can't see it changing much more. Ignore Tim's "warning" that it's an "unrefined" product. S'good. And trust me Tim, I've had MUCH more unrefined stuff. Like distilled Olde English 800.

But I don't talk about that.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sweet Leaf Sweet Tea - Friday, March 9th

Working at a distillery is powerful thirsty work. Shoving and jockeying barrels, standing next to steam jacketed copper stills, crawling into odd, dusty places to plug stuff in or unscrew something. Powerfully thirsty work that leaves a man with the need to imbibe in great quantities. Most often when I get home, I'm craving a cold beverage and to take off my boots (insulated Red Wing sweaty). Lately, I've been drinking a melange of different beverages, my two favorites being grape soda and Virgil's Dr. Better (a significant upgrade to Dr. Pepper). But I recently came across more cans proudly displaying that lovably homicidal grandma, so I figured I'd pick them up to try what else ol' Sweet Leaf has to offer. This time, it's their Sweet Tea:

Do you like the strategic placement. It's a very zen can.

While I tend to like my sweet tea like tea flavored simple syrup, this stuff is solid and it's clear that they're not trying to trick you on the ingredients list. The black tea is plain but robust and slightly tannic. The cane sugar is present, although not in a concentration that I'd prefer, and it interweaves with the tea nicely. The beverage is crisp and clear and each element is easily identifiable in each sip. While the tea itself is your standand orange pekoe or maybe a CTC assam, it's good in its own thirst quenching way. The kind of thirst quenching that makes you drain the can in one gulp and crush it with your fist when you're done. And for $.89, I'd buy it and do it again. And next time, in a larger quantity.

But only if someone puts painter's tape over that grandma face. Jeez, that lady is SCARY.

I made that chili with your cousin. LITERALLY.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Influences

Lately, I've been thinking about things. Weird, right? Well, the proverbial smoke has been pouring out of my ears like a locomotive. The topic at hand? Surely something deep and profound. Something that would make Freud weep, give Plato restless nights of worry, and Sagan...well...Sagan wouldn't do anything. That man's unflappable. Like stone. Something philosophical, right? Nope. It's mainly been:

"What the HELL am I doing?"

To be fair, I think it's a pretty important question. Six years ago I thought I'd be going to Cornell and working for Intel as a Chemical Engineer. Now...I work at a distillery as a MSc in Brewing and Distilling Science. How did this happen? What frantic tapestry was woven to result in this? Well, I think it's time we had a flashback session on In With Bacchus. So think of this as a new Fireside Chat with FDR. Only FDR is as sodden with booze as a rum cake.

So where do we begin. Well, let's begin with this man:

That man is Mark Davidson. When I was a wee lad...alright, not so wee. I was 18/19 and I was in, surprise surprise, Edinburgh for vacation. My mother, deciding that she'd like to spend a lovely night in the creepy-as-hell plague crypts under Edinburgh known as Mary King's close, left me to my own devices in a land where I was of legal drinking age and surrounded by pubs. Did I get blackout drunk? Not quite. Knowing full well that she wanted to spend the night enshrouded in the creepies, I decided to enshrine myself in the scotchies for a night. While walking down the Royal Mile, I spied W.M. Cadenhead's and a sign for a blind scotch tasting on that very night. For about £15, I got the schooling of my life. Where I had broken my drinking teeth on Captain Morgan, Bacardi 151, and Johnnie Walker Black...this man came up to me with five glasses of upside-the-head. We tasted some Nikka Coffey Still, Ardbeg Corryvreckan (the 2008 Committee Bottling!), and a Michael Couvreur Bere Barley Single Malt, along with two others that my brain has unfortunately misplaced. It opened my mind to the fact that there was so much more in spirits that I hadn't even fathomed. Ol' Mark Davidson planted the distilling seed. But who helped it flourish? This guy: Truman Cox. Former Lead Chemist for Buffalo Trace (now Master Distiller for A. Smith Bowman in Virginia). I managed to get talking to him about his background as a chemist and how he got into the industry. We talked via email for a good few months, just discussing things, when I finally realized that my unhappiness with my undergraduate degree (Chemical Engineering) could be turned into something much, much better. So I posed the ultimate question: where can I go from here. And he recommended Heriot-Watt for my masters. To Mr. Cox, I owe a great deal. He helped me turn a life of mind-numbing monotony (that I wasn't particularly good at) into a veritable Wonka-land of awesome. But, I'm sure dear reader, you're wondering how I found out about what many would consider a relatively obscure (but major) player in the spirits industry. For that, I introduce this man:

I heard about Truman Cox through this man's podcast, Whiskycast. Some know him as Mark Gillespie. This is true. I know him as "You can be a whisk(e)y journalist?!" He was the man that partially inspired me to start this website. His podcast and website chronicle almost everything he's ever tasted and he shares them with the world. I thought that was a pretty sweet idea that killed three birds with one stone. Improve my palate (after all, Mark Davidson taught me that there's a big world out there), keep a tangible record of what I've liked/disliked, and get feedback from friends. I actually first listened to Whiskycast back in 2006 (I was only 19! Gasp!) and began to listen to it in earnest in 2008, shortly after my whisk(e)y revelation and about a year before I started the blog. While the Jolly Toper (Mark Davidson's whisky slinging alter ego) made a crack in the foundations of my whisk(e)y ignorance, Mark Gillespie and his Whiskycast put a wedge in there and hit it with a hammer. Only by "put a wedge in there" I mean "bought a wrecking ball" and by "with a hammer" I mean "with a wrecking ball". In my younger days, I couldn't even fathom what whisk(e)y meant. The subtle nuances of cask choice, of condenser type, of still design, of column and pot still blend choice. Mark opened the door to both whisk(e)y journalism and the technical side of manufacturing whisk(e)y for me. Heriot-Watt served to re-lay the foundation of my whisk(e)y intelligence. The man who finished the house, and who I have quite a deal of respect and admiration (not to mention owe quite a bit), is this man:

This is Dave Broom, eminent spirits writer and knower of many things. He managed, straight out of school, to introduce me to my editor at Whisky Magazine and help me get published in such a prestigious tome. Not only that, but he tolerates my occasional calls to ask him about obscure spirit things. To sum it up, Dave has done two things: pushed me further into whisk(e)y journalism...and broadened my horizons to spirits journalism. For a long time, my focal point was whisk(e)y. Scotch, Irish, American, Japanese. I reveled in it all. But his continued conversations and articles about traveling to Japan for sake and shochu, his depth and breadth of knowledge of rum, and his wisdom on cognac have made me realize that I'm being too shortsighted in my work. Because of him, I'm seeking out rum to try, sake to sample, and (for the first time ever) I'm contemplating broaching the subject of cognac, which I know only in technical terms but not in flavor or aroma.

These men, legends in their own ways within their industries, shape what I do on a daily basis. There are others, however, that shape HOW I do it. My writing style can be said to be...unique. "Crazy" is more often the appropriate term; the rantings of mercury-laden hatter. But I do draw my style from a few sources. To some extent, I draw influence in my writing methodology from my engineering background. Frankness and truth are well regarded in my writing. There is no gilding of the lily in the sciences: you are either wrong, or right until someone proves you wrong. Being forthright is key. But that's not to say that don't incorporate other facets. One of my main figureheads of journalism is this man, the most reverent (and crazy) of them all:

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Raoul Duke. The Grand Pubaa of Crazy Journalism. Many of my generation enshrine the Good Doctor due to his prodigious and grandiose usage of illegal substances (in vast quantities and inappropriate times). While I find this entertaining to a certain degree, it's not what draws me to him. It's his style of writing. Gonzo journalism, as defined by Wikipedia, "is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative." It is journalism at its extreme opposite. Instead of the journalist remaining distanced and observing, it sees the journalist immersing and interacting. While this may be horrid for your standard (read: important) news, I find in the spirits industry that it's a most beneficial and beautiful form of coverage. They say that you can't know a man until you've drank with him and I feel that doing it gonzo is the only way to fit that pearl of wisdom into a journalistic setting. To be fair, I don't go as far fledged as the Good Doctor did (although if funds weren't limited all the time, I most certainly would go full gonzo), I do try to adhere to what Hunter S. Thompson has created with his time. Also, his writing style is impeccable. If you saw the Rum Diary with Johnny Depp, try reading the book. I haven't even seen the movie and I can tell you its better. Don't feel bad about perusing Thompson's works; they're very, very good.

My other inspiration for writing may surprise some of you. It is a man that made his bones elsewhere in another industry and decided to write a book about it. His work is the quintessence of the phrase "write how you talk."

The man is Anthony Bourdain. I greatly admire his works (Kitchen Confidential, Nasty Bits, Medium Raw). Upon reading those books, its as if the man is sitting next to you, narrating it to you like an episode of No Reservations. His uncanny wit, scathing sarcasm, and almost venomous self-depreciating humor come across exactly as he speaks. And it is ungodly beautiful. He can spin a true story like no other I've met. It is poignant, funny, and particularly jabbing. I likes it. So, naturally, I'm borrowing it. Except I'm no great artist, so I think I just proved Picasso wrong. So HA, you Spanish Cubist genius. Not so genius after all, huh?

This is, of course, the short list. I could name dozens of others who I greatly admire and draw infrequently on (this post itself contains several references to another comedic savant, Brad Neely) but I'm pretty sure I lost most of you about 3/4 the page up so I won't go any further. I just wanted to put this out there not just to enlighten you, but to thank those that have inspired, guided, and helped me to be what I am. Maybe in ten years time I'll do another post like this (assuming we're still using blogger, or even computers) and update my list. I'm sure that as time rolls inexorably forward, this list will grow significantly longer.

Thanks, folks.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is Sugar Jack Rum?

At work, there always constant chatter about the TTB. The Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates labeling and classification of distilled spirits, is the gateway for the small distiller to go from crazy idea to commercial product. You submit your formula (recipe), your label, your wine gallons, your proof gallons, your losses in rectification, and even your soul to these people and they make sure that your product is legal to sell, with the appropriate documentation, and that you're paying applicable taxes.

One of the things that they do is classify what your spirit is. They determine whether what you've made is a whiskey, a flavored vodka, bitters, or what have you. You have to meet certain legal qualifications for all of these categories and you'd be surprised how lenient they can be. You can put new make corn whiskey, distilled to no higher than 160 proof, into a new charred oak barrel at no higher than 125 proof for 1 second...and it would be called a bourbon. "Bourbon" doesn't have a mandatory time-in-barrel. "Straight bourbon" does; it's 2 years.

But there's always been one thing that's bothered me: should sugar jack be classified as a rum? For those of you that don't know what a sugar jack is, I turn to one of the two foremost experts on all things moonshine, Matthew Rowley. In his post "A Writer's Guide to Moonshine, Part 1", he goes on to say this:

"In the mythological mountain South, that pure old mountain dew was corn whiskey. But even in 1974, actual journalist Joe Dabney realized that style of moonshine was on the wane, replaced by modern sugar washes that distillers took up in widespread corner-cutting in the 1920’s. In Mountain Spirits, he wrote “The truth is that compared to equivalent figures from five, ten, and twenty years ago, the ‘corn likker’ craft is dying fast.” No, what was around for most of the last 90 years was not corn whiskey at all, but spirits made from table sugar, made fast to be sold fast. The old corn whiskey of our parents’ and grandparents’ eras was rarely corn and rarely whiskey. But it sure was moonshine."

A sugar wash is literally described by its title: a mixture of table sugar and water, fortified with yeast nutrients, that is fermented and distilled. There are a few places these days creating a sugar wash moonshine (the one I'm thinking of is the new Dutch's Spirits which makes a Sugar Wash Moonshine out of Demerara sugar. But one thing that's irked me is, if you were to submit it to the TTB...would you have to call it a rum?

Personally, I feel that a sugar jack shouldn't be classified as a rum even though its fermentation base is sugar, like all rums. But here's why. Rum itself is mainly made of byproducts of the sugar manufacturing process. Your standard molasses based rums, regardless of molasses grading, are manufactured using a byproduct of the sugar rectification process. Even rhum agricole (which is made using cane juice), I feel, is made with a byproduct as there is little commercial viability for fresh cane juice. You can't really export cane juice without heavy processing. Most rhum agricole producers are within an hour or two of a sugar cane pressing site. The reason for this is the biological instability of cane juice. Molasses is hard to inoculate in its uncut form due to the high sugar content. Any bacteria or yeasts that are added to pure molasses rarely survive due to what's known as osmotic pressure. If I can hearken back to basic chemistry here, you may remember that things of high concentration flow to areas of low concentration. In molasses, the high concentration of sugar outside of the cell membranes of the yeast/bacteria really wants to get into the low concentration area within the cell of the yeast and bacteria. This osmotic pressure will eventually draw the water out of the cell to balance the outside and inside concentrations, effectively killing the cell. But in cane juice, there isn't a high enough concentration of sugar to do this. In fact, its the perfect concentration of sugar to facilitate bacteria and yeast growth. So without heavy processing (read: drawing off water to form a syrup), it is useless. A sugar jack, however, is using a non-waste ingredient. It's taking the refined sugar, either white table sugar or refined brown sugar, and using it as a fermentation base. If you've seen Moonshiners, you've seen Tim hauling around big bags of sugar to supplement his corn fermentation. This is the main difference between a rum and a sugar jack: one uses a waste product, the other uses a finished product to achieve a high alcohol wash.

Do I think the TTB will open up a new category for sugar based moonshine-like products? No. Do I wish they would? Yeah. I think lumping it in as a rum is doing it a disservice. Even if it's not a 100% pure sugar wash, I still think there should be some wiggle room here. A 51/49% mix of corn to sugar doesn't really make a whiskey, nor does it make a rum. It makes an entirely different animal. But, hell, for all I know they could be classifying it as a vodka. The Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits is a funny thing. And I spent months studying it.