|DBS gets stuck in
|Michael from Maverick talks us through FEW
|An Old Forester julep
Old Forester is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley, fermented using a “jug yeast” (i.e. nurtured, not chemically engineered) in open steel vats for seven days, double the time for most bourbons. Only 15 barrels are made at a time, and the barrels are made by the distillery themselves from white oak with a high toast and low char. Again there is no aged statement, but I think Tom said it was aged for about 7¼ years. We taste two bottlings, an 86 proof (43%) and a 100 proof (50%) “Signature” edition. The nose of the 86 is spicy and aromatic and for me carries a whiff of mint, which is carried over on to the palate, which is sweeter that the FEW samples. (Although this talk of sweetness and mint sounds as if I’m just imagining a julep…) The 100 proof is spicy but distinctly elegant on the nose, with a hint of citrus, and again smooth and polished on the palate.
The story of Hudson Whiskey is just as rich in strange incident. The Tuthilltown Gristmill, 40 minutes north of Manhattan in Gardiner, was purchased in 2001 by Ralph Erenzo as a site for a climbing centre. However, planning permission was refused, allegedly because neighbours didn’t fancy the idea of strangers trooping into town. The site had a working windmill, and one day a chap asked if he could mill some grain; they got talking and decided to go into the whiskey business, setting up the first distillery in New York since Prohibition. (Note that since then there are now 290 distilleries in the state, which gives an idea of just how much craft/artisan distilling has taken off.) It’s another grain-to-glass enterprise, aiming to “capture local flavour and ambience using the agricultural resources of local farmers while leaving a smaller footprint on the environment”.** They have also pioneered some interesting techniques: after someone suggested they could enhance the wood-ageing process by agitating the barrels every day, they hit upon the idea of playing bass-heavy music in the warehouse. (No one would comment, but I’m sure I’ve heard that it is, naturally, New York hip hop.)
|I rather like the squat Hudson bottles
Finally we are introduced to Balcones, a tiny distillery built under a flyover, using handmade stills, that set out to create an entirely new tradition: Texas whisky (spelled without the “e”). Baby Blue and True Blue are the regular (46%) and cask strength (61.8% ish) version of their groundbreaking whiskey made from roasted atole blue corn meal. (Apparently all batches start out the same and any could go either the True Blue or Baby Blue route, until the master distiller decides, after which it can be shaped through the precise charring of the barrel, etc.) This is completely different from the other samples we’ve had, with a nose of maple syrup, pancakes, caramel, candyfloss and varnished wood. (Apparently the distillery is very hot, and they use small barrels, so there is a lot of interaction with the wood.) It is very soft on the tongue, with the same sugary flavours, plenty of wood and a hint of apples.
|Our whiskey ambassadors at Steam and Rye
The lesson from all of this is that there is a hell of a lot going on in the US whiskey world at the moment. Age statements tend to be out of fashion, and you have some interesting techniques (such as the Tuthilltown bass frequency angle) to speed up the ageing process, while distilleries like Balcones are really opening up the possibilities of what you can make spirit from. The weight of tradition is much less of a marketing trope (in fact in this batch Old Forester really stands out for being so old), and instead brands identify themselves by the struggle, determination and ingenuity of the story behind the start-ups. The pioneering spirit—what could be more American than that?
* I think that there were four brands that had medicinal licences to carry on through Prohibition, of which I know Four Roses was one.
** I never thought of distilling as particularly wasteful of the earth’s resources, but this idea of “green distilling” is another trend. The Adnams distillery in Southwold has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for the sustainability of their operation.
|Our gang at the tasting in the strange environs of Steam and Rye (I'm in the middle at the back)