A rare occurrence happened recently, where an exclusive tasting event of the Old Rip Van Winkle range, or Pappy Van Winkle as it’s more commonly known within the bar trade, came to Manchester.
Your’s truly managed to bag himself a seat at the table with 4th Generation Preston Van Winkle.
Lets dive in and check out why Old Rip Van Winkle became one of the most sought after American Whiskies.
Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle began working at W.L. Weller & Sons as a travelling whisky salesman during the latter half of the nineteenth century, before ending up as the President of Stitzel-Weller Distillery after acquiring with Alex Farnsley W.L. Weller and the A Ph Stitzel Distillery (producing Old Fitzgerald and W L Weller amongst others). Pappy’s son, Julian Jr., operated the distillery from 1964 until the family sold it in 1972, resulting in the formation of J.P. Van Winkle and Son that specialised in commemorative bourbon decanters and bottling. Julian Van Winkle Jr also created a new brand in the pre-Prohibition style, using whiskey stocks he had wisely kept by from the previous distillery. Eventually, he created the Old Rip Van Winkle label as a side venture in case his son, Julian III, wanted to come into the business.
Julian III did take over in 1981 after his father passed away, and despite a lull in bourbon business, Julian purchased the Old Hoffman Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, for barrel storage and bottling purposes. Julian III’s son, Preston, finished his college degree and joined his dad in the distillery in 2001, doubling the size of the sales team at The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery after realising his passion at the 1999 Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Buffalo Trace bought the W.L. Weller label in 1999 and had been making the bourbon with nearly the same recipe as Pappy’s, resulting in an approach to Julian III, something which he wasn’t initially interested in. It wasn’t until May 2002 that a deal was reached and Buffalo Trace started to produce the Van Winkle bourbons, using Pappy’s exact recipe.
All of the bourbon sold under the Van Winkle label is distilled from a mashbill with no rye; rather, they use wheat instead.
So with this knowledge, lets take a look at the range –
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr– 53.5%
Bottled as close to barrel proof as possible, with a splash of Kentucky limestone well-water.
Rich, bold butterscotch aromas on the nose, mixed with caramel, dark cocoa and a slight dry corn note. Subtly sharp upon the palate, offering a warmth with butter, cream soda and a lingering corn, spice and dry raisin.
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yr – 45.2%
Soft caramel and subtle butterscotch on the nose, with hints of straw and olive oil coming through. A balanced texture, with light honey offering up a natural sweet profile. Long finish with corn and caramel combining for an oily texture.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15yr – 53.5%
Crafted according to the exclusive family wheated recipe.
Banana leaf and mellow corn arrives on the nose, followed by a subtle Pedro Ximénez note. Soft sharpness on the palate, with lemon peel and a subtle stemmed cherry profile arriving for the short, thin finish.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20yr– 45.2%
Hazelnut, caramel and chocolate hazelnut offer up a dry oak finish on the nose. Subtle hazelnut though on the palate, resulting in a dry, light oak with butter thickening up the texture into an oily, long finish.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23yr– 47.8%
Soft notes of light butter, caramel and oak upon the nose. Subtle sweetness provided on the palate, with dry oak, straw and honey offering up a long, grass fresh finish.
A stunning range of American Whiskey, and highly sought-after for their sipping qualities. If you can find one, grab a bottle for your drinks cabinet, open, sip and enjoy.
The team at Buffalo Trace came around to Manchester once again to host their annual cocktail competition, but armed with a twist that saw the bartenders of the North West face a variety of challenges in a couple of unique settings.
Hosted at El Gato Negro, the competitors found their way to the final by offering a unique Buffalo Trace serve, but knowing that if they got through, a set of challenges awaited them. Hailing from the likes of Epernay in Manchester, Salt Dog Slims in Liverpool and Filter and Fox, also in Liverpool, the competitors were joined by UK Brand Ambassador Tim Giles, who alongside his team at Hi-Spirits (the UK distributor of Buffalo Trace) of Ross and Jack, set the day off with a ‘Buffalo Migration Tour’. Asking the bartenders to work on their starting clue, this led them to one of four venues across the city of Manchester, where once found, they were set a task that would test the knowledge of each individual when it came to the world of Buffalo Trace.
Tasks included getting the correct barrel maturation letters and numbers out of a series of 8 to choose from, a blind tasting of a selection of the Sazerac whisky range, including Buffalo Trace, as well as the family tree of the company itself. If correct, the competitor receives the key to the mystery box that contains items that can be used within their migration cocktail, if wrong, they have to pick an item, but not one you would necessarily find within a classic whiskey cocktail!
Once all 4 challenges have been completed, a rendezvous back at El Gato Negro kicked off the main portion of the cocktail competition, as each competitor had to re-create their Pioneering American cocktail that they entered with, as well as a Buffalo Trace cocktail using the ingredients won (or lost) over the four challenges.
With myself, Tim and last years competition winner Joe Ballinger judging, each competitor showed off their skills in creation, as well as their knowledge of Buffalo Trace and the links from this to their ideas, both in the original recipe, as well as their quick-fire migration cocktail.
The top three will be showcased here today, so in third place saw Liverpool represent with Beth Leigh of MOJO Bar. Her original Pioneering Creation saw her create the ‘Trial by Jury’, which saw Buffalo Trace mixed with a spiced porter syrup, Giffard’s dark cacao, almond milk and egg white, served with an atomiser which contained White Dog whiskey, almond and chocolate bitters. Her Mystery Migration cocktail though saw her create the ‘Bloody Long Derby’, offering up Buffalo Trace, fresh tomatoes, lemon juice, mint, Antica Formula and sugar, topped with San Pellegrino Lemon and garnished with a mint sprig and fresh cherry tomatoes.
Anthony Hogan of Epernay, Manchester earned second place with his two cocktails. His Pioneering Cocktail, named the ‘Bottle Shock’ saw Buffalo Trace built with a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon juice and blueberry with bluebell soda, garnished with mint and fresh blueberries. His on the spot Mystery Migration recipe, named ‘Hunters of Kentucky’, saw him build a recipe with Buffalo Trace, peach and Red Bull syrup, fresh tomato juice, Antica Formula and Peychaud’s Aperitivo, garnished with a peach fan and lemon zest.
The winning serves though, both seen as equal and of a high-standard when we were discussing the drinks in general, came from Will Meredith of El Gato Negro. His original entry saw him show off the ‘New Orleans Fizz’, a blended serve containing Buffalo Trace, egg white, milk and cream, homemade Creole New Orleans ketchup (fig, date, prune and cayenne pepper flavoured) and a corn, malt and rye syrup. His Mystery Migration serve saw a thrown creation of Buffalo Trace, Peychaud’s Aperitivo, a mango and Dijon mustard syrup, topped with Stella Artois, capped with the fantastic name of ‘Celine Dijon’.
So congratulations to Will, who wins himself a trip to the home of Buffalo Trace in Kentucky! A great idea for a cocktail competition, really getting the competitors to immerse themselves in the brands history and heritage, bringing it to the forefront in their Pioneering America cocktail, and testing their skills with the Mystery Migration serve. All whilst having their knowledge tested, really bringing out the best bartender in the North West and earning their stripes as they head to America.
Jim Beam has been a staple of many a bar for many a year now, so much so that they themselves have the tag ‘The World’s No. 1 Bourbon’ stamped on every bottle. But how does a brand come to call itself that? A brand that, from my knowledge, not many people know much about? Well lets dive into the history of this supposed number one and see what comes out the other end.
Our journey starts in 1740 and the migration of the Boehm family from Germany. Translate the surname and you get the worlds ‘hell’, so a change to ‘Beam’ started the etching into bourbon history books. In 1788, Jacob Beam settled in Kentucky and set about experimenting with the corn and grains that grew on his farm. This blend of ingredients were run through a still, aged in barrels and eventually became bourbon, possibly named after Bourbon County, Kentucky. 1795 saw the year of the first ‘Jim Beam’. David Beam took over his father’s responsibilities in 1820 at the age of 18 and during his reign, America was undergoing an industrial revolution. With the country expanding itself and finding new and innovative ways to not only communicate and travel, but transporting of goods, technology such as the telegraph, steam-powered ships and the opening of waterways and railroads aided the expansion and distribution of the Beam’s family bourbon.
David M. Beam was handed the reins to the family business in 1850 and four years later, in order to be near Kentucky’s first railroad, David M. Beam moved the distillery to Nelson County. Three years after civil war broke out, David’s son James B. Beam came into the world and the family, with a real dislike for his name. Apparently a man who liked to keep things simple, he introduced himself as Jim Beam. After taking over the business from his father, the business thrived. Once the end of Prohibition in the US in 1933, Jim Beam wanted to carry on the tradition of the original recipe from the days of Jacob Beam, so he built and moved to a new distillery in Clermont, Kentucky taking 120 days. From this point forward, the bourbon was called ‘Jim Beam Bourbon’. Son Jeremiah Beam joined the company at the same time as the opening of the new distillery and earned the title of master distiller. With his passion, he travelled the world to share his knowledge of bourbon and the Beam family legacy. After the death of his father, Jeremiah continued to grow the business, opening a second distillery in 1954 near Boston, Kentucky, which is still in use today.
Jim Beam’s grandson Booker Noe maintained the Beam family’s commitment to quality. As the Master Distiller Emeritus at the Jim Beam Distillery for more than 40 years, Booker introduced his own namesake bourbon in 1988 – Booker’s. Booker’s was the world’s first uncut, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon, and the first of the legendary Small Batch Collection. Upon the death of Booker Noe, his son Frederick Noe took over the reigns of the Master Distiller and is still in the position today.
Not bad. And it’s great to see after all these years, the brand is still within the family. But with longevity comes consistency, and consistency means a rigorous check of the production method. The following is taken directly from the Jim Beam website as I found that the process would be better understood as they have written it.
Start With Sweet, Sweet Water
Much has been said about Central Kentucky’s water. It’s famous for making fast horses, pretty women and good bourbon. (We’ve also heard it as:, pretty horses… but the good bourbon never changes.) Because we’re sitting on top of a limestone shelf, our water has a natural filter. This creates an iron-free, calcium-rich water that’s perfect for making bourbon. Perhaps that’s why 98% of all bourbon distilleries are located here.
The Secret Is Yeast
Our jug yeast is a closely guarded family secret. It’s the same strain of yeast we’ve used in our bourbon-making process since prohibition ended. It’s more than 75 years old—and it ensures the same Jim Beam® bourbon consistency in every bottle. So the bottle of Beam® in your granddad’s hand in that picture from his fishing trip in 1953? Same DNA as the bottle you can buy right now just about anywhere in the world. Our yeast is so important to us that Jim Beam used to take some of it home with him on the weekends, a tradition that continues today with Jim Beam’s great-grandson and seventh generation Beam family distiller, Fred Noe. We put the jug yeast in a tank and feed it a hearty diet of ground up grains to create “dona yeast.” We use this yeast in the fermentation process once we’ve cooked our mash.
Mix, Mash & Cook
Hammer mills grind our “mash spill”—our top-secret mix of corn, rye and barley malt. Milling breaks it down for easier cooking. The mash spill feeds into a 10,000-gallon mash cooker. Here we add some of that pure limestone-filtered Kentucky water, along with some “set back”—25% of the old mash from the last distillation. This is the “sour mash” part of our bourbon-making process—ensuring the same Jim Beam® Bourbon from batch to batch.
Fermenting Cooked Mash
From the cooker, the mash heads to the fermenter. We cool the mash down to 60-70°F and add our 75-year-old yeast strain to the mix. And the yeast eats. And eats and eats and eats, feeding on sugars in the mash, heating the fermenter as it eats and multiplying as it goes. The upshot of all this activity? Carbon dioxide and more importantly for us, alcohol. This transforms the mash into “distiller’s beer.” Because it looks, smells and tastes like a rich, light beer.
Distilled Twice. So Nice.
The beer travels into our 35-foot-tall column still. We heat it to about 205°F, which is hot enough that the alcohol turns into a vapor that rises up the still, but not so hot that the beer boils. As the vapor cools and falls, it turns back into a liquid. This “low wine” is 125 proof (62.5% alcohol) of strong-willed goodness. From the column still, the low wine flows into the doubler for a second distillation in our pot still. It gets heated and condenses into “high wine”—at a paint-peeling 135 proof (67.5% alcohol).
Barreling And Aging
After distilling the bourbon, we tap the high wine into brand new charred American oak barrels. We like our barrels to have what we call “alligator char”—that is, they’re fired enough that the insides take on the scaly, bumpy look of a gator’s skin. Each barrel holds about 53 gallons (more than 500 pounds) of what will be the the world’s finest bourbon. The loaded barrels are rolled to rest in one of our airy hilltop rackhouses. As the seasons change, Kentucky’s climate expands and contracts the barrel wood, allowing bourbon to seep into the barrel. And the caramelized sugars from the gator-charred oak flavor and color the bourbon. Throughout the bourbon making process, a fair portion of the 53 gallons of bourbon escapes the barrel through evaporation or stays trapped in the wood of the barrel. We call this the “angel’s share” or “Booker’s share.”
Jim Beam bourbon ages for at least four years—twice as long as the U.S. government requires.
So there we have it. A fascinating history, one that I myself have only realised has influenced so many bourbon distilleries and brands to this day, and a production method that creates such a varied range. I’ve been lucky enough to try a couple of the range lately, therefore below I give to you my tasting notes –
Jim Beam Original – 40%
Aged for 4 years. Light vanilla notes on the nose with a sweetness slowly appearing. Vanilla carries onto the palate, mixed with a little spice that leads to a lengthy finish. Slight touch of oak lingers.
Red Stag Black Cherry – 40%
Through a slow infusion process, four-year-old Jim Beam Bourbon infused with natural flavours. Sweet, ripe dark cherries on the nose with a sugar ladened palate of cherry on the palate with a cinnamon spice to finish. Amazingly long, and a little dry at the very end.
Jim Beam Maple – 35%
Created using 4yr Jim Beam, slowly infused with maple and aged in oak barrels.
Subtle nose of maple syrup, following onto the palate nicely with plenty of bourbon, oak and a rich, sweet maple finish that lingers.
Jim Beam Black Label– 43%
Aged for 6 years. Soft vanilla on the nose with hints of orange lingering. Smooth on the palate with a hint of spice, honey and toffee creating a long finish.
Jim Beam Signature Craft– 43%
Aged for 12 years. Plenty of red fruit, smooth on the nose with hints of cherry near the finish. Rich on the palate though, with a slight spice but a long, bold finish with a little dryness. A couple of sips makes this a cracking dram.
Jim Beam Double Oak– 43%
Launched in April 2016, this expression is first matured in new charred American white oak barrels before being transferred into a second freshly charred oak barrel for a further period of ageing.
A nose of vanilla and caramel blended with freshly cut wood. Rich notes of oak, followed by scorched wood, vanilla and intense red fruits that leads to a long, slightly dry finish.
Jim Beam isn’t just for a great sip, it can also be housed within a cocktail –
Jim Beam Double Oak Fashioned
50 ml Jim Beam Double Oak
4 dashes bitters
2 sugar cubes
In an Old Fashioned glass, add the sugar cubes and bitters along with a little bourbon and ice. With a bar spoon, muddle and stir the liquid so the sugar starts to dissolve – repeat until complete. Then, cut a thin slice of peel from the orange. Pinch the orange peel and rub around the rim of the glass to coat with citrus oils. Repeat with the lemon. Garnish with the orange and lemon twists
or maybe this,
Man O’ War
20 ml Jim Beam Bourbon
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
12.5 ml water
10-15 large fresh mint leaves
Combine all ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
But sometimes the best way to involve Jim Beam is within food –
Jim Beam Bourbon Whisky Cake
1 pound candied cherries
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 pound golden raisins, halved
6 eggs, separate yolks
2 cups Jim Beam Bourbon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
12 ounces butter
1 pound pecans
2 cups sugar
Soak cherries and raisins in Jim Beam Bourbon overnight. Grease a 10-inch tube pan and line with brown paper or parchment. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Sift flour and reserve 1/2 cup. Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add soaked fruit and the remaining liquid, 4 1/2 cups flour, nutmeg, and baking power to butter mixture. Stir to combine. Beat egg whites by hand or with an electric mixer until they just barely hold stiff peaks. Fold into batter. Toss nuts with 1/2 cup reserved flour and fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 3 to 4 hours or until cake tests done. Remove from oven, cool slightly and turn onto rack to cool completely. To store when thoroughly cool, place in tightly covered container. Stuff centre hole with cheesecloth soaked in Jim Beam Bourbon. Drink any extra Jim Beam®. Wrap in heavy wax paper. It isn’t necessary to soak the cake in Jim Beam® Bourbon as it will be moist and flavourful. Keep very cool, in refrigerator if necessary. Makes 15 servings.
So not only is Jim Beam rich in history, it also shows off with its range as well as its versatility within both cocktails and food. What more can you ask for? It really does prove some valuable points for Jim Beam’s statement of being ‘The World’s No1. Bourbon’. See for yourself.
Old Forester, America’s first bottled bourbon, is the ideal gift for those looking to treat their Dads this Father’s Day. With a history as rich as its taste, Old Forester is the only bourbon that has been available pre, post and during Prohibition, and to this day is still made by the same founding family.
The Kentucky straight bourbon whisky was first created by George Garvin Brown in 1870 in Louisville. Brown was a pharmacist, and recognised an early need for a reliably high-quality whisky, that met medicinal standards. The bottle still bears a handwritten guarantee from him, and it is these consistently impeccable standards of craft in production that have lead to Old Forester becoming recognised amongst top bartenders around the world.
Made using a recipe, which is in keeping of when it was first introduced in 1870, the high in rye bourbon, is full bodied and rich. The spirit delivers a genuine bourbon experience, and smooth character, making it perfect for a Whiskey Smash, the traditional Whiskey Sour cocktail, or sipping neat.
The rich story behind Old Forester and accessibility as a spirit, make it the ideal, thoughtful gift for whisky fans this Father’s Day.
For the past two months, the Spirit Cartel family, runners of fine liqueur, have been engrossed in the search for a bourbon don with the right balance of whisky parlance & cocktail shaking.
And they’ve found him; Benji Purslow has been named the face of cult bourbon brand Four Roses in the UK. The passionate whiskey aficionado impressed the judges in a hard-fought battle at the southern soul sanctuary, The Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch, London. Each of the four worthy competitors were put through their paces to exhibit their passion and knowledge to establish why they deserve to be initiated into the Four Roses and Spirit Cartel lineage.
Judging the contest was JJ Goodman, founder of the legendary London Cocktail Club, Charles Marshall, Spirit Cartel Consiglieri and David Hood, newly appointed Capo di Capo at Spirit Cartel.
Charles Marshall said of the competition: “The quality of the finalists made it a very difficult decision for the judges to choose the ultimate winner. Benji stood out from the competition with his captivating persona as well as in-depth knowledge, ability to communicate and enthusiasm for all things bourbon. Welcome to the Four Roses & Spirit Cartel family! As this shows, we like to do things differently at Spirit Cartel, and this has allowed us to see just how much talent there is in the UK bar community.”
Benji has worked in the London cocktail scene since 2007 and has travelled the world to compete in bartender competitions with bourbon being Benji’s choice of poison. His exceptional skills in cocktail creativity, bar training, consulting, presenting and bar management has culminated in him part owning celebrated bar Victory Mansion in Stoke Newington.
This role will see Benji host consumer and trade events across the country to take Four Roses to its rightful position at the go-to and must-drink bourbon in the finest bars in the UK.
Commenting on his new position, Benji Purslow says: “Four Roses bourbon is a brand steeped in heritage and craftsmanship and I’m absolutely delighted to have won the chance to play a key part in the brand’s exciting bourbon journey in the UK. Working together with the rest of the team at Spirit Cartel, it’s game-on to make Four Roses the most desirable bourbon in the UK and the quality of the spirit makes that job so much easier!”
Charles Marshall adds: “We love what we do at Spirit Cartel; we see ourselves as the smiling assassins of the spirits world and are confident that Benji will have as much fun engaging the trade with Four Roses and its iconic story as we do.”
As well as receiving a contract to work with the winning combination of Spirit Cartel and Four Roses, Benji has also been invited to take an unforgettable trip to the Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky, USA, later this year.
Walsh Whiskey Distillery, which commissioned its new 650,000 case distillery at Royal Oak on 27 March, has announced significant developments for its super-premium Irish whiskeys in the key Russian and United States markets. In Russia, the company has agreed an exclusive contract with the Simple Group appointing them as the exclusive distributor of The Irishman super-premium Irish whiskey. In addition, one of the largest control states in America, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has granted Walsh Whiskey’s Writers Tears a listing.
The Irishman – Russian Distributor: The appointment of the Simple Group to represent and distribute The Irishman is significant for Walsh Whiskey Distillery for two reasons. Russia, with a population of 143 million people, is one of the top five export markets globally for Irish whiskey and The Irishman is the leading independent Irish whiskey in Russia.
Founded in 1994 with 950 employees, head offices in Moscow and St Petersburg, the Simple Group has a network of 80 regional distributors (53) and representatives (27) serving over 1,500 on and off-trade points-of-sale across Russia. Simple also has its own retail chain of wine boutiques and bars in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.
Writers Tears – Pennsylvania LCB Listing: 2016 is the first year that Writers Tears is being distributed in the United States of America and the granting of a listing in the control state of Pennsylvania is an important milestone for the super-premium pot still Irish whiskey. Pennsylvania is the sixth largest state in the United States with a population of 13 million people including cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Established following Prohibition in 1933, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board generates sales of $2.34billion annually from its network of 603 Fine Wine & Good Spirits bricks and mortar stores as well as its online channel – http://www.FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com.
Writers Tears is currently available in selected states namely – New York, Minnesota, District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Commenting on these milestones for The Irishman and Writers Tears in key markets, the Founder & Chief Executive of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Bernard Walsh, said:
“It is very encouraging to be strengthening the reach of our brands in key markets like Russia and the United States, especially as our distillery is now in production and we gear for both strong production and sales growth in the years ahead.”
Some of you may have come across this day. It’s a celebrated event as it marks the occasion of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5th 1933. It’s with this historic day in the history of alcohol production that Old Forester bourbon made its mark this year as the brand is officially the longest running bourbon on the market today (144 years) and is the only bourbon to be bottled pre, during and post prohibition.
It’s astonishing then that I’m only just sitting down and really taking a look at the brand. So here goes.
Old Forester originates back to 1870, and is the brain child of George Garvin Brown, a gentleman who based himself on Main Street (322 W. Main Street to be exact), the center of Louisville’s whiskey economy through the early 20th century. George sought to have America’s first bottled bourbon; not only sold in sealed glass bottles, but each made according to Brown’s 1870 Original Batch process of batching barrels from three distilleries to create a consistent flavor profile.
In 1897, Bottled in Bond Old Forester was presented at 100 proof in sealed bottles to comply with the legal regulations specified by the U.S. Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. This followed the legend that involves Old Forester and the now classic cocktail ‘Old Fashioned’, where it was deemed that the local Louisville’s Hometown Bourbon was used in the 1880’s.
In 1910, Old Forester Old Fine Whisky robust small batch was created on Whiskey Row, but in 1920, Prohibiton begins and saw many distilleries close. But the company, now named Brown-Forman after being originally named J.T.S. Brown and Bro., applies for and receives a federal license to continue producing Old Forester for medicinal purposes. 4 years later, Old Forester operations move from Whiskey Row to 18th and Howard streets in Louisville, and in 1933, Prohibition is repealed. Old Forester production is increased and, as mentioned, today Old Forester is the only bourbon continually distilled and marketed by the founding family before, during and after Prohibition.
1935 saw the Old Forester barrel entry proof established at 125 proof to comply with new post-Prohibition federal standards for distilled spirits, and in 1941, an Old Forester plant begins producing industrial alcohol to help World War II efforts.
1946 saw the purchase of the Bluegrass Cooperage, which today is known as the Brown-Forman Cooperage, to make Old Forester whisky barrels. To this day it’s the only cooperage owned by a major distiller!
In 2002, Old Forester celebrated the 156th birthday of founder George Garvin Brown with a limited-edition Old Forester Birthday Bourbon™ on his birthday, Sept 2. A year later, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon receives the title of American Whisky of the Year at WhiskyFest New York and in 2015, Old Forester Mint Julep is named Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby®, a race starting back in 1875.
So what makes Old Forester stand out to the other bourbons available?
Well the 86 proof version, or the one you are likely to see in many a bar, is twice distilled and uses a grain recipe of corn, rye and malted barley. You also have the Signature 100 proof which uses only a selection of barrels available, and the original 1870 batch which see’s select barrels from three warehouses, each barrel originating from a different day of production, with a different entry proof and a different age profile, then batched together.
But how does the 86 proof fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Old Forester – 43%
Floral notes of tobacco and vanilla on the nose, with a subtle orange zest coming through slowly. Thick on the palate, with a good kick of oak, fudge and caramel to begin-with, turning to a lively, fresh butter and orange finish that’s long, slightly sharp and offering hints of honey.
A great dram to be enjoyed on its own, but what about a twist on a Blood and Sand perhaps using Old Forester, spiced pineapple and vanilla as recommended by Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester? Or maybe the Kentucky Derby favourite?
60 ml Old Forester
25 ml Simple Syrup
8-10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs, for garnish
Rub 8-10 mint leaves along the inside of a mint julep cup. Pack mint julep cup with crushed ice. Pour bourbon and syrup over ice. Swizzle with swizzle stick or bar spoon. Top with ice and garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint. *Make sure to slap mint and insert straw into ice near mint.
A recommended bourbon for sure when it comes to stocking your drinks cabinet. The brand offers a liquid that is unique to the American industry, and with its versatility, it really shows off how bourbon would have been enjoyed not only today, but back in the 1800’s too.
* Thank you to Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester for showing off some of his Old Forester bourbon cocktail skills to me.*
One of Manchester’s favourite whisky dens, The Britons Protection, hosted another rather special evening in their 200 plus years of existence. Jack Daniel’s, one of the world’s most famous brands, offer a service where you can purchase a Single Reserve barrel, and to add to their impressive 320 expressions of whisky, over 20 of them Jack Daniel’s labelled, the team at The Britons Protection have just done that, again!
After the success of the first release earlier in the year, they decided to do it all again, but this time they looked for a different flavour, having the #2 select stand-out from the first.
Making the 4000 mile trip back to Tennessee, they worked alongside the Jack Daniel’s team to select a spirit that would be fitting to the Manchester scene, culminating in the barrel arriving in the city with 276 bottles curated. The cask is unique in flavour and only available at The Britons Protection, who themselves are part of an exclusive family as being one of only eight such projects in the UK this year.
The evening itself had the distinguished Cam Dawson, UK Brand Ambassador of Jack Daniel’s, as well as representatives from Bacardi Brown-Forman who develop the brand here in the UK. Touching on the history, anecdotes from Jack Daniel’s himself, as well as of course what makes Jack Daniel’s stand out to other whiskies in the American market, a tasting would be needed.
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 – 40%
Light nose with a distinct sweetness dominating. A smooth offering on the palate with a slight spice and vanilla flavour. Charcoal notes with burn sugar after-taste. Lingers.
And then moving onto,
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel ‘Manchester Select’ #1– 45%
Light caramel and vanilla on the nose, with hints of butter and wax combined with oak. Very smooth upon the palate, a slight sharpness from the oak but it mellows with honeycomb. A lively finish on the tongue with dry spice battling toffee and oak flavours.
And of course onto,
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel ‘Manchester Select’ #2 – 45%
Plenty of soft vanilla and honeycomb upon the nose, offering a subtle yet smooth aroma. The honey travels onto the palate well, with dry spice hints coming through alongside flavours of clotted fudge and vanilla which offers a slightly dry finish.
A cracking dram, and a marked difference between both Manchester Selects. You can still purchase a bottle at The Britons Protection itself, or indeed just enjoy a dram within the ‘Jack Lounge’, fitted with authentic barrel top tables and a roaring fire inside one of Manchester’s traditional public houses.
American vodka is not as overly common as some may think. It’s still the European countries that dominate the UK market, but the likes of Skyy do pop up every-now-and-again. The same can be said for Hangar One, a brand that see’s its heritage coming from Alameda, California.
St. George Spirits was founded as America’s first eau de vie distillery in 1982 by Jörg Rupf, a gentleman who had grown up in Germany’s Black Forest to a family of distillers. He went into law and became, at the time, Germany’s youngest judge. On a visit to the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1970’s, he decided to stay and distill local fruit to produce eau de vie. In August 2001, Rupf met with fellow artisan distiller Ansley Coale, president of Craft Distillers and a collaborator in Germain-Robin brandy, to discuss producing flavored vodkas using a method similar to the production of eau de vie.
Hangar One Vodka was founded back in 2001, with Rupf overseeing production and Coale handling design and marketing. Operations were initially based in Rupf’s St. George’s distillery in Hangar 1, a 2,000 square-foot World War II-era hangar at the old Alameda Naval Air Station, before expansion saw it move to a 60,000 square-foot hangar in Alameda, California, in 2004. In April 2010, Hangar One was acquired by Proximo Spirits, who continued to produce the vodka in Alameda through St. George until the Summer of 2014. It is now produced in the building next to St George’s distillery which it shares with Faction Brewery, and is headed up by Master Distiller Caley Shoemaker.
So what about the vodka itself?
Hangar One prides itself as a small batch vodka made from a blend of pot-distilled Viognier grapes and column still-distilled Midwestern American wheat. The flavored varieties are created by infusing the vodka base with fresh fruit, and then distilling the vodka within a pot still which takes about four weeks per batch from start to finish.
So how does the mix of grape and wheat fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Hangar One Straight – 40%
Light, perfumed aromas of the Viognier grapes scented along a base of the American wheat on the nose. Scented upon the palate too, with the grapes dominating initially, and the creamy wheat base comes through to offer a ripe, stringent and lively spiced finish. Long.
Hangar One Mandarin Blossom – 40%
Ripe mandarin and satsuma upon the nose, with soft hints of rose petal coming through. Bold, thin yet light on the palate, with a soft warmth of the orange, mandarin and subtle honey notes. Fresh on the finish, with a rich kick to develop a long experience.
Hangar One ‘Buddha’s Hand’ Citron – 40%
The ancient relative of the modern lemon, Buddha’s Hand Citron offers a lower acidity. Very ripe, sharp citrus upon the nose, with sherbet following closely. Soft on the palate, with small bursts of dry lemon, apricot and earthy notes such as basil. Lingering at the finish.
Hangar One have many a serve to suggest, but maybe try one or two of these –
Cranberry Citrus, by Jillianastasia
60 ml Hangar One Straight Vodka
120 ml Ginger ale
60 ml Cranberry juice
60 ml Orange juice
60 ml Pineapple juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, and pour into glass. Garnish with sugared cranberries and rosemary. Serves 2.
Apple Hinny, by Jason Cousins
50 ml Hangar One Straight Vodka
30 ml Fresh green apple juice
15 ml Lime juice
Apple fan garnish
Combine the ingredients within an ice filled highball glass, stir, garnish and serve.
High volume venues can struggle to produce consistent cocktails, especially in the high-demand areas where one below-par drink can effect several others. It’s with this that developers have sought out opportunities to produce brands that can take the stress away from cocktail creations, especially in venues that are not traditionally cocktail led. By coming up with a base ingredient, or a multitude of them that forms the basis of a classic cocktail, and ‘all you need to do is add your spirit’ and it’s as easy as one, two, three.
Or is it?
Some brands work well for a time-being, and then start to lose their own flavour, their own consistency and ultimately you are back to square one. But one brand that prides itself with knowing how a venue works, no matter what the scale of service you are on, is Finest Call.
In 1995, the American Beverage Marketers (the same company behind the Real range) came out with a new line of premium cocktail mixers, designed with the bartender world in mind. Using fruit sourced from around the world and redefining the packaging by utilising a store-and-pour design, Finest Call made waves within the industry.
To go away from my usual style of feature, It’s best with the Finest Call expressions to explain as we go along, so below, you will find my tasting notes on each variation I’ve had the chance to experience so far –
Finest Call Pina Colada Mix – 0%
Produced with Bakers cream of coconut from the Philippines and Dole pineapple juice from Thailand, they utilise the coconut meat and milk for a thick and creamy texture.
Fresh coconut on the nose, with the bold pineapple aromas coming through slowly. A thick, natural sweetness follows. Thick texture with a thin flavour of the coconut flesh, followed by a slight zest from the pineapple. A lingering well-balanced flavour to finish.
Finest Call Mojito Mix– 0%
Using Key limes from Mexico and blended with spearmint and superfine sugar. Plenty of lime notes come through on the nose, with soft hints of the spearmint following nicely. Natural aromas of the sugar gives a good base. Light with a dry lime flavour standing out. More refreshing on the second sip, with the spearmint releasing fresh aromas on the lingering, slightly sweet finish.
Finest Call Sweet and Sour – 0%
Created using pure lemon juice from California (Eureka and Lisbon varieties) and simple syrup. Sharp on the nose with the citrus naturally dominating. Soft sugar notes come through to underline. Clean and light on the palate, with natural elements of the citrus drawing out a long finish with kicks of sweetness following.
Finest Call Cosmopolitan Martini Mix– 0%
A blend of New England Ocean Spray cranberries, Key lime juice from Mexico and sweet orange oils. Fresh, dry aromas of the cranberries come through on the nose, followed by the natural note of the Key lime juice and the subtle orange. Thick texture on the palate, with a stringent stewed cranberry and lime mix as the dominating flavour. Subtle orange oils follow but the cranberry offers the long finish.
Finest Call Wild Berry Puree Mix – 0%
A combination of strawberries from California, raspberries from Pacific NW and mangoes from India, combined and then an addition of pomegranates and lemon juice from California. Bold, fresh raspberries come through on the nose, with the mangoes offering a soft underlining aroma. Thick texture with a good balance of the strawberries and raspberries. The mango once again offers the smoothness and kicks off the subtle aroma on the finish. Fresh and naturally sweet.
As you can imagine, all of these are designed to be a part of recipes such as –
Wild Berry Colada
Highball or Hurricane
30 ml Finest Call Wildberry Puree
30 ml Jim Beam Red Stag
90 ml Finest Call Pina Colada Mix
3-4 leaves mint leaves
2 cups ice
Pour Finest Call Wild Berry Puree in the bottom of the glass. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender and pour over Wild Berry Puree. Swirl with spoon and garnish with fresh berries.
Finest Call Mojito
50 ml White rum
90 ml Finest Call Mojito Mix
Top with soda water
Combine the first two ingredients in a Boston glass filled with ice. Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a mint sprig and lime wedges.
There are many other expressions available, including Margarita mixes, a range of purée such as banana, mango, strawberry, passion fruit and watermelon, a Bloody Mary mix and syrups like sugar syrup, almond and triple sec. These are perfect for at home too, with simple to use bottles and a long shelf life (on average around 18 months unopened, 12 months when opened and refrigerated and 3 months if not) and great for summer or winter punch bowls. Pick up some bottles for your bar at home and take a test to see how quickly it can be to whip up a cocktail, and keeping the freshness.