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.