4th July 2014 – USA Tasting
On Thursday, 4th July 1776, a sunny, cloudless day, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the Second Continental Congress approved The Declaration of Independence. Do you know what they did then? Yes they passed round the Whiskey. So what better way to Celebrate the 238th Anniversary of this auspicious occasion than with a tasting of America’s finest whiskey. To that end over 50 of us met at The Telmere Lodge, Hasland, Chesterfield for a memorable night.
American whiskey has a very rich and varied culture, but we started with what’s happening in the US Distilling Industry right now. Micro brewing of craft beer has been going on for a while in the US and this has spread to Craft Distilling, small whiskey makers are springing up all over America making their own style of whiskey which does not follow all the stringent rules that Bourbon makers need to abide by.
So let’s start with a very new distillery:
Roughstock Montana Pure Malt Whiskey – 49% – Purchase
RoughStock Distillery, Bozeman, at the base of the Bridger Mountain Range in beautiful south-western Montana. Montana’s first legal distillery since Prohibition and the first to make whiskey in Montana in more than 100 years. Bryan & Kari Schultz started whiskey distilling in 2009, they make hand crafted, small batch whiskeys, using a copper pot still. In Montana they grow the world’s best barley – typical American quote – so as their first whiskey Bryan & Kari produced a Single Malt, made with 100% Malted Montana Barley. The production on the copper still is similar to Scotch and Irish but the maturation is typical American in virgin, brand new, lightly charred White American oak casks. A lot of ageing is not so important as it is with Scotch, a couple of years is all that’s needed for American whiskey.
A Brief History of American Whiskey.
As soon as settlers started to arrive in the New World they started to brew beer, which soon leads to spirits. As more Scots and Irish moved to the America’s more whiskey was produced being their preferred spirit and obviously being better quality than other spirits.
In the mid-18th Century settlers wanted more room and Daniel Boone led settlers through the Cumberland gap to a place which Native Americans KEN TAH TAH – meaning “the place where we will live”. Here grew a type of Corn which we know as Maize or Indian Corn as it is still known in distilling circles. In homage to the help the French gave to the American’s during the war of independence a lot of the new counties and settlements were given French names – one county was named Bourbon County. The capital of Bourbon County is Paris and the Main city is Louisville. Kentucky became a state in 1792.
Evan Williams, in 1783, was the first commercial distiller in Louisville.
Bourbon County got a reputation for making good whiskey, on 26th June 1821 an advert appeared in The Paris Newspaper advertising Bourbon Whiskey for the first time.
Contrary to popular belief Bourbon County is not dry, Paris is Liquor store free, but you can drink in bars and restaurants.
One of the big differences between Scotch and Irish to American whisky is the Mix of Grains. Here we use 1 grain – barley – corn, usually in America they use a number of grains called the Mash Bill. Bourbon has to be at least 51% Corn – Maize but the other 49% can be rye, wheat, barley. In order to call your whiskey (note spelt with an “e”) Bourbon you have to follow strict Federal Rules.
Larceny – 46% – Purchase
This whiskey is a Wheated Bourbon, the main small grain is wheat which makes a softer whiskey. John E Fitzgerald Larceny to give it its full name is made at Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky. The distillery was founded after Prohibition ended in 1933 by five brothers called Shapira. The Distillery is named after William Heaverhill the previous owner of the land.
After the second world war they wanted a Master Distillery so hired Earl Beam, who’s uncle was also a distiller called Jim. Earls son Parker, took over as Master Distiller and the current Master Distiller is Parkers Son Craig beam. They make a lot of different whiskies, using different Mash Bills and maturation style. The legend behind the name is that John was a Treasury agent who would Steal whiskey under his control – but only the best as he had great taste – so good whiskey became known as Fitzgerald’s.
Copper Fox Rye – 45% – Purchase
Copper Fox Distillery is another Craft Distillery owned by Rick Wasmund situated in Sperryville, Virginnia. And founded in 2000. Again they use a small copper pot still, and a small range of craft whiskies. Rick spent some time working at Bowmore Distillery on Islay where he learnt a lot including Malting, and has made Wasmunds Single Malt. Rick also spells whisky without an “e”. This expression is extremely interesting. The Mash Bill is two thirds Rye, one third Malted Barley. The Malt is lightly smoked using 60% Apple wood and 40% Cherry wood. Double Distilled. Aged for 15 months. Aged in used Bourbon Barrels (like Scotch) but with wood chips inside the casks – Apple Wood and Oak Chips.
Wild Turkey 101 – 50.5% – Purchase
Some years ago I was at Whisky live in London and a Scottish sorry, Hebridean, Distiller mate of mine said “come and meet the world’s Greatest Distiller.” It turned out to be Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller for Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Jimmy has been at Wild Turkey for over 55 years, and has now been replaced by his son Eddie as Master Distiller – Jimmy comes in on a consultancy basis – Eddie is an apprentice having only served 30 years at Wild Turkey.
The Distillery used to be called Ripy until the Company Austin Nichols brought it in the 1940’s. They renamed it Wild Turkey as this was the favoured drink at the annual directors Wild Turkey Shoot. It was actually this expression of 101 proof – 50.5% abv which was favoured. Today the distillery is owned by Campari – a Venetian Company – who also own Glen Grant. Very old fashioned Bourbon – very much the same as in the 40’s or when Jimmy started work.
Elijah Craig – 12y/o – 47% – Purchase
The Reverend Elijah Craig was another of the first distillers from Bourbon County at the end of the 18th Century. Elijah was the first one to use charred barrels. The barrels would be charred inside before filling them, at the time whiskey would have been drunk without ageing the casks used to transport the whiskey to market. The Reverend sold a lot to New Orleans by the time it got there it had “mellowed” and taken on a light caramel colour from the oak.
Legend has it that he first used charred casks when he had a barn fire which accidently charred the casks – being a thrifty Minister he still used the casks and discovered they were good. Another story has it that the casks were second hand and the burning was to get rid of the flavour of the previous filling. Being from Bourbon County he started calling the whiskey “Bourbon”. This is also made at Heaven Hill, the main small grain is Rye – most common in Bourbon. 12 years is a lot of age for a Bourbon and this is a big rich oaky whiskey.
High West Campfire Whiskey – 46% – Purchase
Situated in Park City Utah at 7000 feet of elevation. Founded in 2004. Housed in a fantastic looking building it’s a Saloon and Distillery – serves great burgers. They have the Saloon and an old House connected by a distillery. Owned by David Perkins and his wife Jane. Dave is a Biochemist by trade and a big American West fan – perfect for becoming a distiller. Again craft distilling – small pot stills – small batch.
This is their Campfire whiskey. Dave and Jane were visiting Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay. One morning at the B&B, they smelt peat in the air – the great ladies that made the meals were simmering a bottle of peated whiskey and sugar! Later that night, they brought out dessert of melon drizzled with the peated syrup. The combination of melon and sweet smoke really worked – so why not mix sweet bourbon and peat? So this is a blend.
Sweet from a straight bourbon whiskey from 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and 5 percent barley malt.
Spicy and floral from a straight rye whiskey from 95 percent rye and 5 percent barley malt.
Smoky: A blended malt Scotch whiskey, made of 100-percent barley malt that has been peated.
Age of the whiskies: all are 5 years or older. Source of the whiskies? The bourbon and rye are from the old Seagrams plant in Indiana. Proportions of the component whiskies? Top secret!
American Honey – Purchase
America is the place for Crazies to start, and one that is around at the moment is Honey Whiskey Liqueur. This is where whiskey is mixed with Honey to make a very sweet drink. Thought we had better try it out.
The whiskies were followed by a pea and pie supper, and the type served – American Pie.