Archive for the ‘rye’Category

Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

Evan Williams bourbon barrels

When Heaven Hill Distillery opened the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (528 West Main St., Louisville, 502-272-2611, evanwilliams.com/visit.php) in 2013, it marked the first new bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville since the late 19th century. The brand is named for the man said to be Kentucky’s first licensed commercial distiller, Evan Williams. Some folks dispute that, pointing to Elijah Craig. What is known is that Williams erected a still on a spot across Main Street in 1783 and began making corn whiskey that he shipped downriver in oak barrels. Other distillers soon followed suit and by 1800 the street was known as Whiskey Row. Everyone on the street was making, selling, or shipping bourbon.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a delightful blend of low-tech history dioramas with a walk-through small-batch distillery and a welcoming barroom for tasting. (There’s also a store, but you kind of expected that, didn’t you?) What animates the tour is the dynamic presentation by the guides. In our case, Andy Embry led us from origins to final tasting.

Evan Williams bourbon history dioramaThe dioramas (complete with “historical” voice-overs) explain the basic Creation story of bourbon. Kentucky farmers discovered that the best way to preserve corn was to ferment corn mash and distill it into whiskey. (That many of those Kentucky farmers hailed from Scotland and Ireland, where malted and distilled barley was a way of life, probably aided the “discovery.”) Louisville enters the picture when it is settled in the late 18th century as a transshipping point for traffic on the Ohio River. (This photo shows the diorama of Evan Williams on the riverbank, where his copper alembic is being unloaded from a riverboat.)

Since distilled spirit was in great demand on the western frontier, making whiskey and shipping it downriver was a natural business for the new community. Lo and behold, by the time the neutral spirit packed into oak barrels reached New Orleans four months later, it had mellowed and picked up color and flavors from the wood. Since much of the whiskey came from Kentucky’s Bourbon County, it became known as Kentucky bourbon.

Distillery at Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Get you a copper kettle…


That’s probably all the history any bourbon drinker needs to know, as the taste of the spirit is what really matters. There’s a real alchemy to distilling, but the magic is more philosophical than physical. This small artisanal distillery (above) produces just two barrels of spirit per day. (Each barrel requires 14 bushels of corn, so you do the math.)

The distillery area has that pleasant smell of warm malt, as the facility brews a fresh batch of distiller’s beer each day from a mash of at least 51 percent corn, barley malt starter, and some rye and wheat. (Mash bills, as the proportions are called, vary with the brand.) The low-alcohol beer is distilled in a 70-foot-high column still, then redistilled in a “doubler” to produce a clear “new make.” To be called bourbon, the new make has to come in at 160 proof or lower. Evan Williams puts its spirit into charred oak barrels at 125 proof. By the time the spirit and caramelized wood have married so the bourbon is ready for bottling, evaporation will have reduced the alcohol level further.

Proof is in the tasting


Andy Embry leads bourbon tastingIn the tasting room, Embry explained the basics. “Always nose it,” he said. “A tulip-shaped glass is good. Put your nose right in the glass, part your lips, and inhale.” We’d never thought about the parted lips, but the extra oxygen supercharges the palate to pick up a broader array of smells. “Then take a small taste to cover your tongue,” Embry added. “Roll it across your tongue to hit every tastebud. Don’t toss it all back. If you’re paying over $75 a bottle, you owe it to yourself to taste it first.”

The spirit goes down with a glowing warmth. “That’s what we call a Kentucky hug,” he said with a smile.

Embry had us taste several styles of Heaven Hill whiskies. First came Evan Williams Single Barrel. The 8-year-old 86.6 proof bourbon starts with strong notes of oak and sweet tobacco on the nose giving way to caramel and butterscotch in the mouth. Our second sip was Larceny, a small batch 92 proof wheated bourbon. Soft and sweet, it delivers all its flavor in the front of the mouth. Properly aerated, it has pleasing notes of sweet spices and black pepper. Our third whiskey was Rittenhouse Rye, a 100 proof straight rye with 15 percent corn in the mash bill. After the Larceny, it tasted especially dry, with cocoa and citrus dominating over nutmeg and maple tones. By contrast, the Henry McKenna bourbon—a 10-year-old 100 proof single barrel bourbon—was sweet and smoky, redolent of toffee and oak.

Once a week, the facility offers a tasting pairing bourbon with the artisanal candies of Cellar Door Chocolates. We previewed the experience at Mesa in New Albany and will be writing more about it soon.

01

11 2017

WhistlePig launches Farmstock Rye (and it’s good)

Dave Pickerell of WhistlePig Rye
As a Kentucky-born grandson of a contract whiskey distiller, my allegiance to bourbon as a spirit of choice is practically genetic. But the older I get, the more I’m inclined toward the drier, spicier sensations of good rye for a serious, contemplative tipple. And I’ve had to become less of a Kentucky chauvinist ever since master distiller Dave Pickerell (above) and founder Raj Peter Bhakta started releasing aged ryes from WhistlePig (whistlepigwhiskey.com) in Vermont. The distillery has 10, 12, 14, and 15 year old whiskeys in release.

Those are all made from stock rye spirit that WhistlePig buys from Canada and Indiana. That’s how a new distillery was able to bring whiskey to market even before they built their first copper still in 2015. Their exquisite straight rye (10 years old, 100 proof) scored 96 of 100 points with Wine Enthusiast, while the Robb Report (no, I didn’t make the selection) rated the 12-year-old Old World Cask Finish as “Best of the Best.” The latter is aged in a mix of American oak, Port, Sauternes, and Madeira casks. You might say it’s rye for single malt Scotch drinkers. The 15-year-old Straight Rye is 92 proof and finished in barrels made from oak cut on WhistlePig’s farm in Shoreham, Vermont.

Because Vermont is about the northernmost growing region for oak, the trees grow very little each year. As a result, the growth rings are closer together and impart more aromatics to the aging spirit than standard oak casks. The 15-year-old shows that influence with pronounced caramel and vanilla notes with hints of allspice and orange.

WhistlePig Farmstock Rye

Terroir shines through


“This is the first chapter in the migration of the brand,” Pickerell said when he was in Boston to launch Farmstock Rye, the first WhistlePig rye that features spirit distilled from rye grown on the farm, cut with artesian well water, and aged in Vermont oak. Of course, only 20 percent of the blend is produced entirely on site. That will change, Pickerell explains, as the percentage in Farmstock increases every year until it is 100 percent rye, water, and wood from the farm.

“We call it triple terroir,” Pickerell says, showing that he is as good at marketing as he is at distilling. “Since it will change every year, we expect some whiskey collectors might want to lay down a few bottles as an investment.” (Shelf price is around $80.)

Me, I’ve never believed in having a closet full of unopened bottles. The pleasure in whiskey lies in the glass. Farmstock Rye is a dynamite sipping whiskey. The young Vermont rye gives a smart, spicy kick. The Vermont oak barrels in two different toasts along with some #3 char bourbon barrels provide three different layers of vanillin. They’re clearly stratified, and each represents a different source spirit combined with the barrel type that Pickerell chose to best complement it.

WhistlePig was offering rye cocktails for the launch party. I commented to Pickerell that it seemed a shame to muddy the flavor of good whiskey with mixers. “I won’t tell you how to drink,” he said, “but I’ve always felt that great whiskey makes a cocktail even better.” Then he took a sip of Lipstick on a Pig and smiled.

LIPSTICK ON A PIG


2 oz. WhistlePig Rye
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. maple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with an orange peel or fresh cherry.

14

05 2017