Distiller Discussions Modern American Whiskey

Distiller Discussions: Stanton Webster of Post Modern Spirits

Post Modern Spirits

For this edition of Distiller Discussions, I welcome co-founder and master distiller Stanton Webster of Post Modern Spirits. Post Modern (or PoMo for short) produces several tasty single barrel whiskeys as well several gins and cocktails. If you’re ever in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, drop by for a tasting!


Tastings Tales

Tasting Tales: Corsair Triple Smoke

For this installment of Tasting Tales, we bring to you Corsair Distillery’s Triple Smoke. This expression is a great way to get into smoked whiskeys, especially if you’re scared of those peaty scotches out there.

Whiskey History

Whiskey vs Whisky

“If you don’t know how to spell a word, I suggest you look it up in the dictionary”, is something one would hear often from a teacher while attending school. Now that technology has easily allowed us to eliminate the possibility of grammar errors, without the hassle of dusting off any books, we shouldn’t have any trouble. Although this burden has been relieved from us in the majority of literary circumstances, many debates still arise from the spelling of the beloved beverage “whiskey”.

Whiskey vs Whisky
Weller by Buffalo Trace

“Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels”, is what wikipedia tells us. So which is it; ‘e’ or no ‘e’ (that is the question) and why? As always, an interesting historical footnote is the cause of this common confusion.

Research shows that, the anglicized form of the Gaelic phrase “Uisce beatha”, or “water of life”, is where the word “whiskey” originally stemmed from, (as Scotland and Ireland both possess a rich Celtic heritage). The Scottish spell it “whisky” and the Irish spell it “whiskey”. Irish immigrants brought the ‘e’ to the states in the 1700’s, resulting in American whiskies being referred to as “whiskey” ever since. According to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, Ireland, the different spelling originally began as a marketing stunt, as an attempt to increase pricing.

So, are “whisky” and “whiskey” two different spellings of the same word/product- or are they two separate groups of spirits, spelled relatively the same? Generally, Scottish whiskies are distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is distilled three times – this process determines how “light” and “smooth” the finished product will be. In addition, the size and shape of the stills, that are used in the distillation process, tend to be different. In Ireland (and much of America), pot stills are used – producing a “softer” and “more rounded” spirit. In Scotland, distilleries use a wide variety of stills, allowing a wider range of flavors.

Despite the differences in a distiller’s method of production, there will always be similarities between the two. There will also be those who remain faithful to the ideology that there is true meaning, artistry, and culture behind the spirit’s grammar, Maker’s Mark being one of them. Maker’s Mark is one of the only American made whiskeys who choose to label their product, the “Scottish way”. Even though the company was eventually sold and is now owned by a Japanese company “Beam Suntory”, the family’s request to the spelling of whisky (without the ‘e’), still remains. As the world admires the sought-after label, it is fairly common that buyers are often misled while attempting to buy an American made whiskey, (especially those who are faithful to the notion that countries with an ‘e’ spell whiskey with an ‘e’). So, what could be more important than the presumption and expectations of a multitude of consumers? The answer is, something that cannot be bought: the heritage of the distiller.

Collector Conversations Miniature Whiskey Bottles

Collector Conversations: David Spaid

For this installment of Collector Conversations I bring you my dear old Dad! He has been collecting for 64 years and has the collection to prove it. Find out the story behind the Old Rip Van Winkle 15yo miniatures that are not supposed to exist!

Tastings Tales

Tasting Tales: Corsair Dark Rye

For our first installment of Tasting Tales, we bring to you Corsair Distillery’s Dark Rye. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill whiskey. Sophisticated? Different? Yes and yes!

Collector Conversations Miniature Whiskey Bottles

Collector Conversations: Rotem Ben Shitrit

Be sure to watch this edition of Collector Conversations featuring Rotem Ben Shitrit. Rotem’s collection is nearing 10,000 miniature whiskey bottles and he admits he might be just a wee obsessed. Learn about Rotem and his collection, his favorite bottles, and the craziest acquisition he has ever been involved in.

Follow Rotem on Instagram and his website to check out his rarities.

Distiller Discussions Modern American Whiskey

Distiller Discussions: Ryan Schemmel of Corsair Distillery

For this edition of Distiller Discussions, I welcome distiller Ryan Schemmel, Chief Business Development Officer of Corsair Distillery. Corsair Distillery produces two amazing and unique American whiskeys: Triple Smoke and Dark Rye. In addition, Corsair produces two mighty fine Gins: Barrelled Gin and American Gin. Ryan tells us about his role at Corsair, how Corsair started, what they are working on now, and what’s coming up in the future.

Scott:            Hey all you Whiskey Benders out there, thanks for being here and coming here for another edition of Distiller Discussions. Today I have Ryan Schemmel from Corsair Distillery – out of Nashville if I’m correct? That’s about 2 and a half hours from me which is pretty cool, I can’t wait to come to Nashville next time and see the distillery. Do you guys do tours?

Ryan:            We do, we actually have 2 distilleries in Nashville right now and we do tours at both.

Scott:            Awesome, I love it. Ryan tell us about who you are and what your role is with Corsair.

Ryan:            Sure! I’m Chief Business Development Officer for Corsair Distillery, I’ve been around for about 2 years so far and that’s just a fancy way of saying I’m over Sales and Marketing. I’ve been in the industry for about 20 years, I started out in finance and strategy and that sort of thing but slowly gravitated towards sales and marketing and that’s where my passion lies, and of course with a smaller business like Corsair your day doesn’t always fall into that functional remit of ‘sales and marketing’ it’s kind of all hands on deck – especially with Covid19, you know we’ve all had to expand our activities and what we do on a day to day basis.

Scott:            Yes, making it work. Did you guys do hand sanitizer like a lot of distilleries?

Ryan:            We did! Initially we gave it away for free: We took all of our heads and tails, you know the stuff that we didn’t want to put into a barrel and age and have people consume, typically we would destroy those, have them destroyed, but it’s good high proof alcohol so we actually started producing hand sanitizer right off the bat. Gave away to local community hospitals, folks homes, that sort of thing and we found out that there was a massive demand for it so we actually started producing for sale at the end of March.

Scott:            Wow. I, the collector in me thinks maybe in 20 or 30 years all these different whiskey hand sanitizers might be collectible but who knows!

Ryan:            I’ve actually seen on Facebook quite a few people outing that they’ve found Sazerac Hand Sanitizer in 1.75 (liters) and they are starting to collect it.

Scott:            That’s hilarious! It reminds me of during World War II Budweiser put water in beer cans and it was labelled water, I think those are very collectible now – historic nonetheless. Well tell us the Corsair origin story, I’m really excited to hear that – if you see me bopping around on my chair, I’m excited.

Ryan:            Yeah so it’s a way different story than most spirits companies have. We’re not a heritage-based company, it’s not based on recipes that are 150-200 years old. It was a couple of guys named Derek Bell and Andrew Webber, childhood friends, they had the passion of homebrew and home distilling and it just started to get a little bit more advanced in their garage. At the same time they were starting a biodiesel refining company, going around taking used oils from restaurant groups and whatnot, refining that down to biodiesel and a lot of the distillation process for biodiesel is actually similar or at least transferrable to spirits distillation and they knew that because they were doing the homebrew and the home distilling on the side, and as you can imagine biodiesel production is not the sexiest thing in the world, not the cleanest thing in the world, it literally stinks… so they were sitting around one day thinking “How can we take our knowledge and our passion for homebrewing and kind of convert this biodiesel company into spirits?. So obviously the biodiesel movement was all based on innovative solutions within a very established industry and that’s energy production, and they took that innovative mindset to the spirit world and they really wanted to make sure that anything that  they did distil, any products that they went to market with, were pretty much in that same vein of innovation and modernization of an established industry.

Scott:            Very good. When you say the bio… say that again, the bio?

Ryan:            Biodiesel?

Scott:            Biodiesel!

Ryan:            Exhaust fuel, for cars.

Scott:            Is that… like old McDonalds’ fry…

Ryan:            Absolutely.

Scott:            Okay, so it’s old oil, yeah. I can see how that would be… kinda nasty. Well now you’re in a much more pleasant business where things smell much better!

Ryan:            Yeah so back in 2008 they opened their first distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky, while they were waiting to get a distillation license for Nashville, Tennessee. They actually ended up getting that in 2010 so they had the first distillation license in Nashville post Prohibition and that’s when they opened the first Nashville distillery. So they kept Bowling Green open, they opened up Nashville, and then after a couple more years they decided to open up another distillery in Nashville just to cope with production demands and that sort of thing and eventually a couple of years ago we actually shuttered Bowling Green. We were producing gin and absinthe and rum up there and shipping it down in bulk to Nashville and bottling it there, so from a production standpoint it just didn’t make sense.

Scott:            Yeah.

Ryan:            Now we’re down to the 2 distilleries in Nashville plus our malting house out on our farm.

Scott:            Wow. So wait you said the first licensed distillery since Prohibition in Nashville?

Ryan:            Yes.

Scott:            That’s awesome. I love that. Wow. Yeah a lot of opportunities opened up in Tennessee since the laws changed – what is that, like 10, 12 years ago?

Ryan:            Oh I’m not sure, that’s the one area of spirits that I’m not well versed in is the legal aspect.

Scott:            I’ll get back to everyone and all our Whiskey Benders with an answer on that because I need to know, because we have so many moonshine places around here now and you don’t have to age moonshine so it was easy for investors to get their… recoup their investment faster rather than waiting for a 4 year old, 6 year old or 8 year old expression to age out. Takes some steel weight through the um…

Ryan:            And deep pockets!

Scott:            Yeah! More on the deep pocket side I’d say! Well how are things looking today as far as with the distilleries and this Covid19 stuff and this unrest and strange stuff we’re going through these days?

Ryan:            Yeah it’s a, you know, it’s an ever evolving situation. Everybody likes to use these phrases like ‘the new normal’ and uh-

Scott:            ‘Now more than ever’!

Ryan:            [Laughs] but I don’t think that there is a new normal, it’s a fluid reality, it changes all the time anyway. Right now is very difficult especially for small craft distilleries, but I implore everybody out there to please support your local or your small craft brands. What Covid has done to the industry is really force a lot of consumption into big box firms that were already very wealthy, very well off, had those deep pockets that we were talking about. It’s because from a shopping perspective people are no longer doing discovery shopping because it wastes time; you’re exposing yourself longer in that retail environment; you’re not taking the time to read and educate and pick up bottles. And also with the online solutions or the digital solutions to retail shopping those platforms really weren’t designed for that discovery shopping aspect and so they don’t favor craft brands for the most part. And then when you talk about the on premise, the on premise is where craft brands are built, it’s where a lot of consumers get the opportunity to try products without putting the risk of paying $50 a bottle out there when you can buy a $10 cocktail and with that shut down obviously a lot of business goes out the door.

Scott:            Are you talking about restaurants and bars and … specialty high end places yes that’s true… I used to be in the restaurant industry and I just, I can’t imagine owning a restaurant that might have employed 20, 30 people, oof. Man.

Ryan:            It’s very tough – being in this industry for such a long time a lot of my friends, obviously all of my colleagues, are in this business and everybody is having a very difficult time. At the same time it doesn’t just impact the spirits industry: So when I implore people to buy local or support their craft brand sit’s not just in the spirits business it’s across all categories.

Scott:            Yeah. Well I’m gonna help out in the way I can which –

Ryan:            We do appreciate it!

Scott:            Yeah I have my hands on a bottle of Triple Smoke and Dark Rye which Jeff my sidekick and I were going to do a tasting and video that and get it up on YouTube and, we have a lot of fun with that. We’ve learned a lot and what I’ve learned is the first tasting is not necessarily the one you wanna film, you wanna do it again once your palate’s- once all the juices are flowing I guess. That first drink, you can never trust that one you have to wait for the second or third one. Anyway [laughs] Or maybe it’s just me!

Ryan:            No, I think that’s actually an interesting perspective when you’re, I’ve never been on the production side but I love the idea of how the barrels are selected and whatnot so every time I get a chance I do work with the distillery to taste new products and when you’re doing that you actually burn your palette the first, you know with the first dram, just to get is acclimated to the alcohol content.

Scott:            I’m not crazy! Well… I’ll have to ask my wife about that. Anyway well that I guess leads well into: What other expressions do you offer these days? I know that you’ve redesigned the look of the bottle which I think is outstanding, I love it, I was at Party City a couple of weeks ago and I saw some, I think they were the old designs, but I always remember the three guys in the suits. I figure if there’s whiskey on the shelf at the liquor store that company must be huge – that’s not really the case, I mean you guys are…

Ryan:            No it’s definitely not the case. Especially nowadays with the explosion of craft spirits across the United States. As consumers use the internet more to research and find out what taste profiles are out there and different grains that are being used it actually fragmented the overall spirits market just like you saw in craft beer back in the 90s. That went from 4, 5 major multinational companies to 6000 craft brewers across the United States.

Scott:            Ankerstein, Samuel Adams and oh, Sierra Nevada then all of a sudden- BOOM!

Ryan:            Yeah, for sure. So we, you know your question of or your perspective of are these brands huge you know, to give you some context: We produce about 15,000 cases a year and to a lot of consumers that’s probably gonna sound like a lot. You know my family when I sell them how many cases we produce or how many barrels we lay down, they think it’s astronomical. The reality is you know, small brand goes all the way from 0 to 250,000 cases. For 250,000 still in this industry is considered a very small craft brand.

Scott:            Wow. I did not know that! That does sound like a lot, and you fit 12 bottles in a case if I’m correct.

Ryan:            Well ours are 6 bottles in a case but the industry standard that you look at, CE’s is 9 litre cases so 12 bottle case, yeah.

Scott:            Pretty good. I’m learning every day, I love it. Can you rattle off other flavors or expressions that you guys have?

Ryan:            Sure! So when I started two years ago we actually had 25 different brews and that’s a nightmare to manage operationally, and all the dry goods that go with those. Managing your distributors, educating them on what all the brands or all the different expressions mean. So we pared back down to what we call our Pour Four and these are the ones that actually represent about 80% of our overall business and have the largest broad appeal across multiple markets. So that’s Triple Smoke which is an American single malt whiskey that uses 3 different kinds of fuel to smoke the malted barley and that’s peat from Scotland, beech wood from Germany and … wood from Wisconsin. Even though it says Triple Smoke it’s not 3 amounts of smoke; it’s 3 different kinds of smoke that give different flavor profiles. It is a little bit smoky but it’s not overly smoky like a Laphroaig or like a … or something like that. So that’s our number one spirit by far – number 2 is the dark rye. I’m excited for you guys to try that too it’s my favorite out of the bunch: It’s our version of a rye whiskey but we malt all the rye that goes in there meaning we let the rye grain start to sprout – it turns the starch in there into sugar. When you do that it takes away that grassy green note that you see in most ryes, but our rye doesn’t taste like a traditional rye it doesn’t have those grass notes, it keeps all of those spice notes in the back. And then we toast the rye which brings out some dark cocoa, some coffee and some caramel flavors. When you try it you’re gonna get a very robust, complex rye as opposed to fairly straight neat grassy rye.

Scott:            Yeah I’m looking forward to it because I went through what a lot of whiskey drinkers go through you know, they start with like Crown Royal and then they move to Jack and then they move to ooh, Maker’s Mark and then for me oh the jump went to single barrels and I like Blanton’s, but when Blanton’s is getting boring for me. I think the goal for a lot of people is to mute the flavors and have it be easy to drink and I’m at the point now where it’s like ‘challenge me!’, I want higher proof, I want, I want to be able to pick our flavors and maybe I don’t even like it but I like the experience of being able to pick out the notes and things like that.

Ryan:            Yeah so you’re actually a different type of target customer – you’re an afficionado, there’s the entry level or generally, our general market customer that likes things that are easy on the palate, we call them “generally palatable”. They’re typically a little bit more sweet and have a little bit less complexity, a bit less harshness and not to say that those aren’t great products, they are fantastic  products and they actually recruit a lot of people into brown spirits so we’re thankful that they’re there. We’re known for that innovative kind of pushing the boundaries theme so we try to steer clear of those kind of recruiter type palettes.

Scott:            The gateway.

Ryan:            Yeah. So our ‘gateway’ product into the Corsair family is really around gin. So to round out our top 4 is American Gin, so it’s an American style gin, it’s very citrus forward. We use a vapour basket installation system as opposed to a maceration system: Macerating just means that you’re boiling all the botanicals in the gin itself which extracts a lot more flavor but also a lot more oils and tannins from stems and whatnot that are in those botanical plants. By using a vapor system the gin is distilled through those botanicals and so it’s a much lighter, muted profile. And then we offset that with a lot of citrus actually and some cucumber.

Scott:            Oh wow.

Ryan:            A lot of people that don’t like gin they do enjoy our gin because it’s very mild.

Scott:            I’ll have to try that: I like a good gin and tonic and I’m a Tanqueray guy but, and the only reason is if I branch out and try something else I’m usually like “Ugh, what is in that?!” and I’m so used to Tanqueray’s flavor, but yeah the cucumber aspect intrigues me.

Ryan:            Maybe we’ll send you a bottle and you can try that offline.

Scott:            I like that!

Ryan:            And then we do have a barrel aged version of that American gin, it’s not exactly the same botanical profile because it does go into New American Oak barrels and not everything really works well with wood, we do take out some of the citrus (not all of it) we leave  some orange in there and a little bit of lemon but we take out the lime, we take out the cucumber it doesn’t necessarily work well with wood, and then there are a few other botanicals that we throw in there and those are really Fall forward spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and whole vanilla wheat. It’s a very different type of gin.

Scott:            Earthy, yeah, those make more sense with wood. How long do you age that?

Ryan:            Only about 6 months, just to pick up a little bit of the color and a little bit of the oak profile.

Scott:            Really cool. I like that. Do you have any plans for adding to the fourth, a fifth one or anything new?

Ryan:            Yeah, we actually have what we call our support line and the only difference between core and support is really how big an effort we make from a marketing perspective. But our support line we do have a vanilla bean vodka which is just ultra-pure vodka that’s steeped with whole Madagascar vanilla beans for 3 weeks. No sugar added so it’s very dry but very heavy aroma and flavor of vanilla. We have a spiced rum we make and we have a red absinthe. Red absinthe is fairly typical of absinthe, very historic kind of recipe for it, but we do add a lot of citrus to that and the red hibiscus flower to add that red color which is fairly different in that category. And then I would say the last product that we are focussing on in the short term is Tennessee Single Malt and that’s gonna be a very limited release, an allocated product. We’re only gonna make about 120 cases of that this year and we’ll have an edition of that every single year. That one is very similar to triple smoke in that it’s an American single malt, there is no smoke, we’re not using any smoke to arrest the development of that grain, we’ve aged it for a little bit over a year in New American Oak and we’ve aged it for a little over a year in ex Caribbean Rum casks to add some sweetness and some complexity that way.

Scott:            That is so cool. Well I will be watching for that one because I like your, you said it was a single malt?

Ryan:            Yes. It’s 100% 2 row malted barley.

Scott:            Awesome, yes. Well we’ll keep all you Whiskey Benders up to date once that gets out there because I’m following Corsair closely.

Ryan:            I’ll send you a picture of that one, it’s probably the sexiest pack that we have.

Scott:            Really? Okay, great! Any new markets you’re going into and the single malt you just mentioned, is that Tennessee only or is that reaching out further?

Ryan:            The Tennessee Single Malt will, it’ll certainly have a presence in Tennessee. We sell directly out of our distilleries so anybody in Nashville please stop by, pick up a bottle, try some product, take a pour – it will certainly be in that market, probably in the airport as well, and then aside from that it’ll be in major markets so we’re gonna target Chicago, Houston, New York and LA.

Scott:            Super.

Ryan:            But in general we’re in around 30 markets in the United States: Our strategy really is to over develop each market that we go into, make sure that we have a stable long term business there before we start to move out and it doesn’t always work because you have customers asking for your product and you have distributors coming to you asking if they can represent you, but right now we’re really focussed on those 30 markets.

Scott:            Yeah. Focus is good, the definition of focus is the ability to say no!

Ryan:            Yep. They say it’s tough to do – especially as a small company, you’re saying no to money!

Scott:            It’s really hard! I have one last question and this one is sort of close to my heart because it’s, I built a career on digital marketing and ecommerce and as a collector it’s really hard to collect if you’re not shipping and I just wanted your take on what’s your strategy for ecommerce and shipping laws and that whole mess?

Ryan:            Yeah it certainly is a mess. I will say though I am very optimistic and excited about all of the at least interim changes to some of these laws that have taken place. A lot of states during Covid have taken the opportunity to lift those direct shipment rules at least within the state, typically when that happens like Kentucky just went where you can ship directly from a distillery to your home in Kentucky, there are 10 other reciprocal markets that they’re allowed to ship to as well. And then those markets are allowed to ship to a Kentucky resident reversely. So there’s a lot of movement right now in how distilleries can actually ship and over the last 5 years there’s been quite a bit of movement outside of the distillery realm at the next tier down with companies like Drisley trying to solve this with local delivery – the challenge there is you have to be a distributor in that state and have a presence and a retail account that uses Drisley to actually get that product delivered. Then there’s other companies like Speakeasy, like Thirsty, that’re also trying to solve this problem and we’re actually going to implement our first online ecommerce flagship in August and so we’ve partnered with Speakeasy, a company out of California, so that people can come to our website, shop around, see what the products are, actually complete their shopping cart transaction right there and then all those products will be shipped out of California from a company called Speakeasy; and they’re able to ship to 31 markets across the United States.,

Scott:            Awesome, so you guys don’t have to deal with creating an entire back office shipping solution?

Ryan:            Exactly.

Scott:            Love that, it’s very-

Ryan:            But we’re very excited about that! Hopefully one day all distilleries will be able to ship direct to you, just like wine.

Scott:            I hope so. I think a lot of the dumb laws are still holdovers from Prohibition and everyone wants their piece of tax money.

Ryan:            Yep that’s 100% true! All of that tax money though – I’m not trying to speak negatively about the government, don’t take it that way – but all of that tax revenue that goes into each one of these tiers of the route to market in spirits directly impacts the customer and you know, the customers are gonna foot the bill for every one of those. We pay taxes as we ship the product to the distributor, the distributor pays taxes as they ship it to a retailer and a retailer charges you sales tax when it comes in.

Scott:            Wow. Might have to do a Boston Tea Party. No, I’m not throwing any away! [laughs] Well you know what Ryan this has been fantastic, I’ve learned more than I expected to learn and you’re a man of great knowledge and someone who certainly knows their product, I’m very impressed and I look forward to speaking with you again as new expressions come out and I’ll let you know when we’ve done our tasting, should get that published next week sometime, we’re getting better and better at it as we do them! But yeah thank you so much, and I wanna say thanks to all the Whiskey Benders watching this and stay tuned for more. Thanks Ryan!

Ryan:            Thanks Scott. Bye!

Distiller Discussions Modern American Whiskey

Distiller Discussions: Mark Sorrells of GIA Distillery

For my first ever Distiller Discussion, I welcome distiller Mark Sorrells of GIA Distillery. GIA (pronounced Gee-ah) Distillery produces a delicious one-year-old whiskey named FJW that is distilled using the solera method. In addition, Mark’s distillery produces Francesca Grappa. To learn more, watch the YouTube video or read the transcript below.

Scott Spaid:       Hey everybody out there in Internet Land, this is Scott Spaid of Whiskey Bent! I wanna say hi to all the whiskey benders watching this, this is our distiller discussion series where I find distillers who are willing to tell us all their secrets – no, just kidding! – but hopefully, we’ll learn a thing or two about some interesting folks out there that produce some different spirits, and today we have Mark Sorrells of – let me get it right – GIA Distillery?

Mark Sorrells:       Perfect, you did the right word!

Scott:       Thank you! I’ve seen it on the internet and I was pronouncing it like gee-ah, gee-ay-ah, but now I know how to do it, you get your FJW whiskey and when you try it and you go “Gee! Ahhhh.”

Mark:       There you go! That’s perfect.

Scott:       GIA distillers! Where are you located?

Mark:       We are located in Madison, North Carolina, which is about 20 minutes north of Greensboro. I actually live in Atlanta and make the drive up about every other week and everybody always asks, “Why are you in Atlanta and your place is up there?”. Well my wife with her job gets transferred quite a bit and so we were living in Greensboro when a friend of mine said “Do you want to open a distillery?” and I was like sure! And about the time we signed the lease on the building she got transferred to Virginia Beach, so we spent 3 years in Virginia Beach and now she’s transferred to Atlanta, so my drive went from a 5-hour drive now to about a six-and-a-half-hour drive. So it’s a little tougher!

Scott:       You can’t really pick up and move a distillery.

Mark:       No, it’s kinda tough and when your business partner’s up there and you’ve got you know, all your connections and your licenses are all in North Carolina it’s a lot to go through!

Scott:       Yes! Tell us about your partner.

Mark:       He is a pretty private person so I’ll give you… his first name is Sal. Sal grew up in, he’s 64 years old, he grew up in Sicily. He moved to the United States 35 years ago because his dad was sick and he had 7 or 8 brothers and sisters so he moved to New York with $600 in his pocket speaking no English and that first month he was able to send them like $1000 back. So this guy’s just phenomenal with money, he’s a phenomenal worker, still! He works circles around me; he gets up and is working at 7 and he’ll go to 9 or 10 at night doing bottling. I’m like “Sal! I’ve gotta go to bed, I can’t do this!” and he’s still there just going, going, going! So, he’s a perfect partner. He has other businesses that he’s involved in and that’s why he’s you know, kind of a private person about what he’s involved in, but yeah, we get along well and his wife was actually my real estate agent in Greensboro so that’s how we met them.

Scott:       Yeah, so there’s your start, your origin story.

Mark:       Yes!

Scott:       Mentioning that he’s from Italy really will make more sense in a few minutes when he starts talking about the different expressions that you produce.

Mark:       It sure will

Scott:       Yeah tell us what – you have two main expressions I believe?

Mark:       Yes, we started production probably early 2018 and we were doing what was called Jordan’s Cabin Bourbon, and Jordan’s Cabin was actually a 200-year-old cabin in this little down of Madison so we’re trying to honour them by naming this after them and they were real excited about it. About 6 or 8 months later we got a cease and desist letter from a winery in California that said they owned the name Jordan in the alcohol space so we had to revamp everything. Labels, the whole 9 yards, we had to start over. So when we revamped, Sal’s son owns a restaurant in Greensboro called Jita and he runs the Bourbon Club for the Triad area which is Winston, Greensboro and High Point. So he said while him and I were talking one day “Let’s do something different now that we have to make a new label,” he said “Let’s experiment with the solera style. There’s quite a few companies looking at this” he said, “There’s two bourbons out there that are doing it that were real popular back then” and so now that solera style kind of falls in people are doing gosh, rums, scotches, of course whiskeys that’s what we’re doing, and so we went from calling it Jordan’s Cabin Bourbon Whiskey to Jorda- I’m sorry, to FJW Solera Whiskey and we cannot use the word ‘bourbon’ – there it is right there! – we did leave the little cabin on there at the top, so that’s actually Jordan’s Cabin at the top in the picture, but we decided to… I’ve lost my train of thought!

Scott:       No, you’re fine there! Tell people – I think you were getting to the solera style, what exactly that is

Mark:       So, Solera is, it’s an old European style of ageing; mainly in Spain they do it with ports. What they do is they’ve got their barrels all stacked vertically and so each row of barrels from the top to the bottom is very important as one system, ok? So, what we do is when we’re ready to bottle we’ll take 4 gallons out of each barrel along the bottom line, ok? That becomes, we mix all of that together but then what happens is the solera magic and solera means something like ‘waterfall’ in Spanish (I may have that wrong but it’s somewhere like that) so what happens is then we have to move 4 gallons from that 1 barrel above it to fill the bottom one back up – 4 gallons, 4 gallons, then when you get to the top of the stack of 7 barrels the new 4 gallons, the clear liquid goes in up there. So, what you do is you get a mixture of all the ages of the product which is really cool, and it works very well. That product you’ve got right there is right at a year old and I say put that in a glass unmarked and put a glass of Woodford Reserve right beside it – they’ll choose that. We’ve done that a few times and it’s amazing!

Scott:       We’ll do that, because in the next week of two my partner and I are going to do a tasting featuring FJW! We’ll bring some Woodford or something similar

Mark:       Yeah do a blind test with Woodford, it’s amazing. And so, we entered our first tasting competition last Fall, it was an international tasting competition and we got a silver medal – I was hoping for more but I’m happy with that because it was an international competition.

Scott:       Great, wow

Mark:       So that worked out well. And I guess from there we kind of lead into the next product which has Sal my partner written all over it. He is – the way we got together and got started in this business is he was like – I had a little still that I experiment with and I did little bottles of rum for people for Christmas and stuff like that – and he was like “Can you make grappa?” and I was like “Sal, I don’t even know what grappa is, but I’m sure we can make it!” so he said “Well go buy a bottle at the liquor store from Italy, tell me what you think about it,” so I did, I paid like $50, clear bottle of grappa… it tasted like heresy. And I was like “Sal I’m pouring this whole bottle out, this stuff is nasty I don’t like it” he said “Well we all grew up on it over there!” so to them they like that taste but he said, and what grappa is I guess I need to explain what it is in the first place, when they squeeze the grapes and the stems to get the juice to make wine those stems and skins left over are free so they found out, I don’t know, 1000 years ago that they could add a little water to it, let it ferment and distil it – that’s grappa. But back before this, probably like 1000 years, back 1000 years ago – about 400 years when they started doing it this way but back 1000 years ago they used the whole grape, ok? They still made the grappa but they crushed it through the crusher and then put everything back in with juice. So, you get grappa with which you get this overwhelming grape smell when you smell it, so ours still has the bite of grappa that they love but it still has a smoothness, it finishes on the back of your throat more like a cognac.

Scott:       Is this still in the solera method?

Mark:       No, it’s not done in the solera method it’s actually quick aged in some French Oak just to give it a little color, but the taste comes more from the way we do it with the full grape. And nobody else will do that because that’s very expensive – if you think about it the people making grappa in America are mostly, there’s a few wineries that got their distillation license to do it because think of all that leftover waste and it’s a good way of just, you know, to reuse it, and it comes out – it’s cheap, so by the way we do it the cost is a lot more because we have to pay for the grapes and then turn the grapes into juice and then put it all back together.

Scott:       I’m gonna try it, I haven’t ever had grappa.

Mark:       I found out just from doing taste tests in all the ADC stores in North Carolina that grappa is something you ever love or you totally hate – there’s no in between. It’s kinda funny, there’s not some people that’re like “Oh that’s OK” they’re either like “Eugh!” or “Man, that’s good!”

Scott:       Yeah!

Mark:       So what we do on our bottles is we actually have hang tags that explains a little bit about grappa and then it has you know, 4 or 5 cocktail recipes that he uses in the GIA restaurant that are really good

Scott:       Wow! I’m looking forward to it, I like trying new things, I’ll be honest in the review [laughs]

Mark:       [Laughs] Please do!

Scott:       If I don’t like it I’ll let everyone know but I’ll be nice about it!

Mark:       Yeah and like I said, it’s gonna be one way or the other so don’t sugar-coat it!

Scott:       Do you have any plans for any future expressions?

Mark:       We do. There is a winery in France called de Gaulle and de Gaulle if you look it up their bottles run from $300-$1000 a bottle, ok? Turns out our distributor in South Carolina who is French is best friends with the guy that owns de Gaulle so he was able to get us – and they’ve never shipped barrels, empty barrels to North America – he was able to get 7 barrels from the winery after they were used and we filled them with single malt and they are, they were put in in May of last year, it’s wonderful already.

Scott:       How long are you gonna let that lay?

Mark:       Probably gonna give it until next year and the first barrel’s probably gonna be a limited release with the Bourbon Club and Winston and Greensboro, they basically committed to buy the barrel and you know, we’ll of course bottle it for them.

Scott:       Yeah, great! Then we’ll be back here maybe in person doing another one of these then!

Mark:       Well you know if it, if everything still is good as it is now maybe we’ll go and bottle the rest of it, I don’t know! We thought we’d just let it sit and do a barrel each year but-

Scott:       Oh, I like.

Mark:       If we get enough response off of it we may go ahead and do it, and maybe solera those barrels and start all over, so we’ll see.

Scott:       I love it, this is great because it’s not your same you know… it’s not Jim Beam, you know? This is really interesting.

Mark:       It’s not, you know, it’s not another vodka that’s… first time I walked into the liquor store in Madison the lady that manages it and I were talking, she said “Don’t make a vodka. Somebody came in here the other day with sprinkled donut vodka”.

Scott:       Oh my gosh!

Mark:       And she said “They’re just going nuts on this vodka kick and there’s too many, there’s too many rums…” so what do you do? There’s almost too many whiskeys and bourbons but they tend to get drank more.

Scott:       I spoke with a distiller in Hawaii last week and he, a micro distillery verging on hobby, and he tries all kinds of things and one of them is Ahi Tuna flavored vodka…and uh…

Mark:       I don’t think so.

Scott:       No, no, I’m gonna see if he’ll send me one, I’ll try it if he sends it!

Mark:       Is it made to put in like Bloody Marys or something?

Scott:       Yes that’s what he said they’re best in. I would imagine if you know, I asked him is Japanese people like it a lot because they really enjoy that fishy flavor and … I’m intrigued, maybe it’s one of those tastings that would go viral [laughs] I don’t know, we’ll see!

Mark:       I’m just in my mind trying to think how he uh, put it in like a gin basket and you know, steamed the alcohol through it or if he just… how he flavored it, that’s what I’d like to know!

Scott:       He puts the fish in the grape crusher and starts turning the wheel…

Mark:       Oh, I get it!

Scott:       I don’t know, oh my god, yeah! Well this is great, I’m gonna do a tasting with the two expressions you sent to me (thank you very much for those) I’m gonna get this on my channel and hopefully the folks watching this right now have learned something – I know I did – and we’ll keep in touch because of all the things you have going on and I really look forward to meeting you in person.

Mark:       Sounds great, and you know, just to add that it’s if they wanna come look at the website and if they’re ever around Greensboro North Carolina look us up, we’re open on Saturday – starting in July, after the Covid!

Scott:       Yes!

Mark:       Starting after July 4th we’ll be open every Saturday.

Scott:       Well I bid everyone a fond adieu for this episode of Distiller Discussions. Scott Spade of Whiskey Bent – Bye Mark!

Mark:       Thank you, enjoy, take care!

Pre-prohibition Spirits Spirits & Oddities

Bouvier Buchu Gin

Bouvier Buchu Gin
Bouvier Buchu Gin

I spend so much time on whiskey that sometimes it is good to get out of my lane for a bit. For this installment of Something Different, I bring you Bourvier Buchu Gin. from the Bouvier Specialty Co., Louisville, Kentucky. This bottle is obviously pre-prohibition era and is somewhat ornate with the brand name embossed on the sides. A great label, for sure. This bottle isn’t particularly rare but it is very cool indeed!

Bouvier Buchu Gin Research

When doing a quick Google Image search you’ll find several examples of this gin. It seems the color of the gin is supposed to be “apple juice” in nature when compared to the other examples I found. If you want to know what this gin tastes like, head over to our friends at The Gin is In. Yes, you can drink this stuff if you dare. Also, you can read about The Elusive Dr. C. Bouvier and the Rosenbaum Brothers at Those Pre-pro Whiskey Men should the mood take you. Finally, a nicer bottle of this gin sold at Bonham’s Auction for $333 including premium in 2013. Do you have a bottle of this elixir? If so, share below!

Bouvier Buchu Gin
Bouvier Buchu Gin

Among the most interesting of the “liquor as medicine” hucksters was the mysterious, and almost certainly fictional,  Dr. C. Bouvier of Louisville, Kentucky. His buchu gin bottles are dug or found in flea markets all over America   Many have interesting shapes and colorful labels.

All contained “buchu gin,” a potion made by straining gin liquor through the leaves of the Latin American buchu plant, presumably taking along their essence and health-giving properties. Dr. C. Bouvier’s Buchu Gin was vigorously advertised as a remedy for kidney and bladder diseases or for “general disability,” often a euphemism for impotence.   One of its ads explicitly scoffed at physicians.  It read: “Don’t let them kid you because the doctor says you can’t drink. Put your foot on the rail and look wise at ‘the doctor behind the bar’ and say ‘Dr. C. Bouvier’s Buchu Gin.’”   A trip tray advertising the nostrum shows a benign elderly couple, with the obvious implication of the longevity involved in drinking buchu gin.

Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men!

Bourbon Whiskey Whiskey History

Can Bourbon be made outside of Kentucky?

Sweetens Cove Bourbon

“Kentucky Bourbon is the ONLY bourbon”, they say. “You can’t really make bourbon outside of Kentucky because it’s a combination of the barrels and the limestone fed springs that give us water. That’s our story and were sticking to it.” Considering that only 5% of the world’s supply of bourbon is made outside of the southern state – is there a method to this myth?

First off, all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Whiskey can be made anywhere in the world. However, bourbon was born and raised on American soil. So in 1964, Congress declared this unique spirit “a distinctive product of the United States”. With strict rules and regulations for the production of “America’s Native Spirit”, not any ole’ whiskey (foreign or domestic) can take claims to the name “bourbon”.

To properly produce bourbon, the dry grain mixture must consist of (no less than) 51% corn – along with other ingredients such as rye and wheat. Corn being a sweet grain, many distillers often use 65-70% corn. “The more corn, the sweeter the whiskey.” The grains are then milled, so that the fine mixture can be combined with fresh spring water. This is the part where our Kentucky neighbors say, “One of the reasons we make so much bourbon here in Kentucky is because of our water. The water filters through the limestone, picking up calcium and removing iron. Quality water, for quality bourbon.”

The grain and water mixture is then cooked under pressure, in order to create the “mash” for fermentation. Once the mash has cooled, malted barley is then added – allowing the starches to be turned into sugars. This mixture is then pumped over to a fermenter, and yeast is added. As the yeast feeds on the sugars of the mash, cO2 and alcohol are produced while generating heat. After 3-4 days of this process, the yeast dies off and the mash has now evolved into a low alcohol content “wash” or “distiller’s beer”. The liquid is then distilled, producing a clear spirit ranging anywhere between 65-80% alcohol – aka, unaged whiskey. This whiskey is poured into brand new, charred, white oak barrels, and then placed into a warehouse to age for 2 or more years.

There are currently more than 20 working bourbon distilleries in the state of Kentucky, making more than 200 of the world’s most beloved brands – resulting in a 95% contribution to the bourbon industry. Why?

  1. The ease of growing corn. Kentucky’s fertile soil allows corn to be a dominant grain of the state.
  2. With the demand of fresh spring water, ideal for bourbon production, many distilleries have been built near springs. Kentucky is located on a large limestone layer that filters out iron and unwanted minerals while collecting sweet-tasting calcium and magnesium. This not only allows but encourages distilleries to use the local water supply.
  3. A wide range in temperature between seasons in the state, cold winters and hot summers, allows the charred oak barrels to absorb and release the bourbon during the aging process. This gives the spirit its distinctive color and taste.
  4. Although the original inspiration for the whiskey’s name has yet to be proven – Bourbon County, KY is a real place.

The state of Kentucky prides itself on the history of their bourbon production, and rightfully so. Against all odds, who else (if anyone) dares to dip into an industry ruled by the bluegrass state? Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, Wigle organic Pennsylvania Bourbon, New York’s Kings County Peated Bourbon– the list goes on! There are bourbons being made all over the USA. Even better, reviews are giving these upcoming distilleries two thumbs up.

In fact, Marianne Eaves – who holds a place in history as “Kentucky’s First Female Bourbon Master Distiller since Prohibition”, was recruited to serve as Master Blender of a new Tennessee brand, Sweetens Cove. Starting with 100 exclusive barrels of 13-year aged Tennessee product, Marianne’s “meticulous process of blending” began. With whispers of, “caramel and vanilla aromas” and “oak, sweet and spicy” with a “lasting smoke finish” … many have become curious.

The ultra-premium Tennessee bourbon was released May 26, 2020.

As distilleries emerge all over the country, the bourbon industry has clearly proven itself to be successful. With rising expectations from seasoned bourbon connoisseurs, distillers, and newcomers alike – the demand for this cult product is growing exponentially. And whether anyone likes it or not, it’s growing above and beyond the Mason Dixon line.