Monday, August 22, 2016

What is White Whiskey?

White Whiskey © 2016

One of the trendy novelty products to hit the craft distilling market is white whiskey. However, you might already be acquainted with white whiskey via its older, more commonly known aliases -- White Dog, White Lightening or Moonshine. Both white whiskey and moonshine are clear distilled grain spirits, but for a whiskey lover there are some crucial distinctions between the two products.

Moonshine carries the connotation of being made illegally, thus some producers have found success marketing spirits under this term. They bank on the added element of romance and danger that comes from drinking a spirit with a notorious name. However, "moonshine" products, whether made in a backwoods still or sold in your local grocery store, do not have much going for them besides their high alcohol content and their lumbersexual name.

Barrel aging is what gives conventional whiskeys of all varieties their flavor and color. Both moonshine and white whiskey lack the strong flavor and color of a traditional whiskey. However, whereas moonshine is completely un-aged, white whiskey is not. Thus, moonshine is harsh on the palate and lacks the any complex character. On the other hand, craft distilleries selling white whiskey take an extra step to mellow and flavor their spirits. Their subtle flavors make white whiskeys smooth and subtly sweet when sipped straight up or on the rocks, and has made this spirit a favorite ingredient in craft cocktails.

Some distillers use charcoal to temper the harsh bite of un-aged white whiskey, a job that the barrel aging takes care of in traditional whiskeys. Others age the whiskey for a short period of time in white oak barrels, giving white whiskey a light and sweet vanilla flavor—like a light bourbon.

If you are a Colorado whiskey lover looking to try a white whiskey, check out a few of my favorite varieties from local distilleries:

Distillery 291, Fresh (un-aged, mellowed with charcoal)
Colorado Springs, CO

Deerhammer, Whitewater Whiskey (lightly aged in oak barrels)
Buena Vista, CO

KJ Wood, Dead Drift (no information about processing)
Ouray, CO

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Non-Distiller Producer (NDP): What Colorado Whiskey Lovers Need to Know

Tincup Whiskey © 2016

Non-Distiller Producers (NDP) are one of the most controversial topics in the world of whiskey. In short, NDPs are companies that buy barrels of whiskey from a large producer, then bottle and package it under their own niche label. Some NDPs hide the origins of their whiskey and claim to be the producers as well as the distributors of the spirit, while others do not.

Critics of NDPs claim that the practice is fraudulent and degrades the quality of whiskey available on the market. Defenders of the practice counter that in a blind taste test, NDPs give craft whiskeys a run for their money and that not all NDPs hide the origins of the whiskey they are selling.

NDPs have a long history, both in the United States and abroad. In Scotland, the practice is extremely common and accepted. NPDs produce the blended (read: not single-malt) Scotch that makes up 90% of the world Scotch market. Even some single-malt Scotch brands, such as McClelland's and Cadenhead, fully disclose that they are NDPs, and often list the origins of their whiskey on their bottles.

NDPs have caused controversy in the United States because a number of high-profile American NDPs have disguised their status behind elaborate origin stories. One notorious case is that of Templeton Rye, which claimed to be the favorite whiskey of mobster Al Capone. Templeton claimed their whiskey had been produced illegally through prohibition, up until 2006, when they finally went above ground. In truth, Templeton simply popped up and started bottling whiskey from a secondary producer ten years ago.

Tincup Whiskey is an NDP whiskey. Distilled in Indiana, Tincup is then cut with Rocky Mountain water in Denver. However, the text on their bottles imply that it is a Colorado product. In 2016, Tincup and its owners, Proximo Spirits, Inc., paid out a settlement to class action lawsuit members who had accused the whiskey maker of deceptive marketing. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

10 Best Colorado Bars for Drinking Colorado Whiskey

The Bitter Bar, Boulder  © 2016

If you're like me, there's nothing you want more at the end of a long summer day than to sit back with a delicious local whiskey poured over a beautiful block of ice. Lucky for us, Colorado is full of watering holes where you can go to kick up your feet and sip a few with kindred spirits. Here are some of the best bars where you can go to drink Colorado Whiskey:

1. Whiskey Bar
2203 Larimer St.
The name is no-frills, and so is the menu. If you like whiskey, and nothing but, this is the place to for you. They don't serve food, nor do they have a cocktail list. What they do have is a lot of whiskey - some 200 varieties behind the bar, although manager Dave Barry told The Whiskey Wash he estimates they have closer to 400 now. 

2. Whisky Tango Foxtrot
2907 Huron St. 
Five Points, Denver
How can you go wrong with a place that has whiskey in its name? You can't, especially when it carries 15 choices from Colorado on its extensive liquor menu with over 90 whiskeys. 

3. The West End Tavern
926 Pearl St.
Curl up in the sunshine on the West End Tavern's rooftop deck with a glass of one of the 75 bourbons or whiskeys they have behind the bar. If you can't decide, ask the bartender for a custom flight of your favorites. You could even order a flight of Pappy 15, 17, 20, and 23 yr.

4. Cascades Whiskey Bar at the Stanley Hotel 
333 E. Wonderview Ave.
Estes Park
All work and no whiskey makes me a dull girl. What's better than sipping one from a Stanley Select Barrel surrounded by views of the rugged Rocky Mountains? Enjoying a drink in one of its most famous haunts. The Stanley Hotel, featured as the backdrop in The Shining, is now home to the Whiskey Bar at Cascades Restaurant that offers prohibition-style mixes and 21 pages of whiskeys.

5. The Bitter Bar
835 Walnut St.
You can sample $6 cocktails on tap during Happy Hour, including The Tin Man—made with bourbon, lemon, elderflower liqueur and ginger ale. Plus, they boast the longest Happy Hour around, from 5-8pm Monday through Friday. The atmosphere is sophisticated, but the menu isn't pricy. 

6. The Arvada Tavern
5707 Olde Wadsworth Blvd.
Before you pass off this Denver suburb as a snooze-fest, I dare you to pay a visit to The Arvada Tavern. They've got Colorado classics (I'm talking Rocky Mountain oysters and green chile soup) and you can wet your whistle with a large selection of vintage cocktails made with local liquors. It's a great little place off the beaten path. 

The Oxford Hotel
1659 Wazee St.
Known as Denver's first bar post-prohibition, this joint is the perfect place to slip back in time and enjoy a classic whiskey or bourbon cocktail. It opened its doors for business the day after amendment 18 was repealed in 1933, but there are rumors it was serving thirsty Coloradans before that. 

8. Williams & Graham
3160 Tejon St.
Seeking a little anonymity and adventure? Try Highland Park's speakeasy, Williams & Graham. This bar-disguised-as-a-bookstore looks like it would attract the type of person who would rather wrap her hands around a handbound book than a handcrafted whiskey, but don't be fooled. Give the clerk at the counter your name to gain entrance through a trap-door bookshelf. On the other side, you can relax into a plush leather booth with a classic whiskey cocktail or something straight-up.

9. Interstate Kitchen & Bar
1001 Santa Fe Dr.
To the outsider, this retro diner might look like a kitschy 50's joint, but it takes whiskey—even white whiskey—seriously. The Interstate Kitchen & Bar dishes up hearty portions of Americana classics like mac and cheese and deviled eggs that will help you soak up the 13 Colorado whiskeys and bourbons they have on hand. 

10. The Prinicpal's Office at The Ivywild School
1604 S. Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs
No goody-two-shoes allowed at The Principal's Office in Colorado Springs. This isn't your daddy's swinging-door saloon. It's a joint where young-at-heart meets lush, with an array of unique cocktails designed to showcase classic flavors in new and interesting ways. Owner Eric "Harry" Nicol gets extra credit for having 4 different grilled cheese sandwiches on the bar menu.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Whiskey Cocktails: Have an Old-Fashioned

A Rittenhouse Rye Old-Fashioned at The Kitchen, Boulder, CO © 2016

Whiskey cocktails come in many varieties and tastes. The Old-Fashioned was originally a bourbon whiskey cocktail which is on the official International Bar Association (IBA) list. It was perfected and given its name in the 1880's. A bartender at the Pendennis club, a gentlemen's club, is said to have invented the drink in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, who was a successful and popular bourbon distiller. The Colonel is credited with bringing the drink to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel bar in New York City.

However, not everyone agrees that this was indeed how the Old-Fashioned came to be a popular drink. Robert Hess, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail pointed out that there was a very similar recipe in Jerry Thomas's 1862 How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivants Companion. That drink was simply named the "Whisky Cocktail." Mr. Hess believes that the bartender at the Pendennis probably served the cocktail "the old fashioned way" and somehow the confusion began.

What is the old fashioned way? In the early 1800's cocktails were made of a spirit combined with sugar, bitters, and water. The drink was served in a short, glass tumbler which was eventually named for the cocktail, an Old-Fashioned.

There are many variations of recipes out there and one long-standing debate—rye or bourbon? A good argument exists for each choice, and it really just comes down to personal taste. Here's a typical recipe and preparation technique. Reading this will give you a better understanding and appreciation for just how classic an Old-Fashioned is.

1 Sugar Cube
3 Angostura Bitters
1 L Club Soda
2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 old-fashioned glass

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass
Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda
Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever
Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining
Add a large ice cube
Pour in the rye (or bourbon)
Serve with a stirring rod

Credit: Esquire: How to Make an Old-Fashioned

Friday, July 22, 2016

Women & Whiskey: Spotlight on Peggy Noe Stevens

Peggy Noe Stevens

Women have been involved with whiskey for at least two centuries, but their stories are not often heard. Only a few decades ago was it considered acceptable for women to drink whiskey. More women in the workforce promoted this change, but female trailblazers who were involved in the whiskey business get credit for the fact that women make up about 37 percent of whiskey drinkers. Peggy Noe Stevens is the first of these trailblazers--the original whiskey chick.

Stevens, a Kentucky native, traces her history back to some of the most famous bourbon-making families in the state. She, however, is most famous as the founder of the Bourbon Women Association (BWA) and as the world's first female Master Bourbon Taster. The BWA seeks to offer resources and inspiration for female bourbon lovers and wannabes of all ages from all corners of the world. The organization hosts events and gives educates women on all aspects of bourbon-making and bourbon-drinking. Stevens was inspired to start the BWA after noticing that whiskey makers were only targeting the male half of their potential market.

Stevens began her career in the hospitality industry with the marketing department of Hyatt Hotels. Subsequently she moved to Brown-Forman Corporation, one of the largest American-owned spirit and wine companies, to head up their global event planning department. During her tenure at Brown-Forman, she had the opportunity to work with leading spirit labels such as Jack Daniel's and Southern Comfort to help them with their branding. Specifically, she helped develop iconic brands of bourbon and whiskey as destinations, whether through culinary and tasting experiences or through touring distilleries.

Currently, Peggy Noe Stevens resides in Kentucky and brings her branding expertise to clients through her consulting firm, Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates. She has continued to work with whiskey makers such as Beam Inc. and has expanded her client list to other industries.

Friday, July 8, 2016

My 5 Favorite Colorado Whiskey Destinations

Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey  © 2016

I like nothing better than to enjoy a unique, hand crafted whiskey. Fortunately for me, locavore culture in Colorado encourages the local Colorado Whiskey distillery industry. These are five of my favorite and most noteworthy small batch distilleries. 

1. Stranahan's
Denver, CO
If you Google "Colorado Whiskey", Stranahan's is the first to pop up. This isn't too surprising, considering that it's America's number one top selling single malt whiskey. The concept was brought about when a volunteer firefighter, Jess Graber, responded to a barn fire. From his efforts to save the barn, he became good friends and business partners with brewer and whiskey enthusiast, George Stranahan.
Stranahan's offers a free tour that you schedule beforehand for up to 8 people 21+ and lasts one hour. They offer a VIP tour for $50 per person that lasts for 1.5 hours and includes tasting of grains, unaged whiskey, and limited edition Snowflake, and a gift bag. Visit their website to sign up! 
2. Breckenridge Distillery
Breckenridge, CO
The Breckenridge Distillery is the world's highest distillery, at 9600 ft above sea level. They carry their award-winning Breckenridge Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys and Breckenridge Dark Arts made from malt mash, along with several kinds of vodka, rum, and bitters. They won the distillery of the year award in 2013 and 2015.
Tours are given every half hour beginning when the brewery opens, and the last tour begins at 5:30 pm. They also have a tasting room downtown that is open from 11 am to 9 pm. Their gift shop is one of the best for bourbon lovers. 

3. Dancing Pines Distillery
Loveland, CO
Estes Park, CO
This company was founded by Kimberly and Kristian McNay, with some help getting off the ground from Kristian's dad, Christopher. Each bottle is hand-made, and all flavorings are made from whole ingredients, instead of extracts. They carry rye whiskey, bourbon, and bourbon liqueur. 
They do tours of their distillery and tasting room in Loveland, CO on Wednesday to Friday at 3-8 pm, or on Saturday at 1-8 pm. Reservations are strongly encouraged. They also have a tasting room in Estes Park, CO. 

4. Peach Street Distillers
Palisade, CO
Peach Street Distillers are the oldest locally owned distillery from Colorado. They are located in Palisade, CO, and my, that town is a slice of heaven! The Colorado River runs straight through the middle of town, and it is surrounded by the Rockies. They have a Bourbon, American Whiskey, and Rye Whiskey to choose from. 
You can sign up for a tour on their website. They give tours Thursday-Sunday during the tap room's business hours. 

Spirit Hound is relatively new, opening in 2012 in Lyons, CO and introducing their whiskey in 2014. They have only sold 11 barrels to date, and are very new on the whiskey scene!
They give free tours every day of the week, starting every half hour during their business hours. 

Let me know what your thoughts are on these distilleries! I can't wait to hear about your visits. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

What is Bourbon?

Hudson Whiskey © 2016

Mark Twain once said, "There is no such thing as too much good whiskey." He was a known bourbon lover. What is bourbon? How's it any different from Scotch? What makes a good bourbon? Those are the questions I hear all the time. Here are some answers. 
  • What is bourbon? Bourbon has roots in the deep southern part of the USA. Made mostly from corn, it's distilled in new, charred oak barrels. There's some disagreement over whether the name came from Bourbon county in Kentucky or Bourbon St in New Orleans. Either way, it's been distilled in the USA since the 18th century. Elijah Craig is often accredited as the 'inventor' of bourbon which may or may not be accurate. However, he is the one who developed the process of using charred oak casks to age the product. This gives the reddish color and distinguished taste. 
  • What's the difference between bourbon and Scotch? Location is the number one difference. Bourbon is always distilled in the USA while Scotch is distilled in Scotland. Additionally, as we've already covered, bourbon is made mostly from corn while Scotch is distilled from malted barley.  
  • What makes a good bourbon? Federal standards, issued by Congress in 1964, mandate that bourbon must be distilled from at least 51% corn. Additional ingredients will change the flavor, sometimes dramatically. Distillers experiment with "mashbills" (fancy word for recipe) and some have more corn, higher rye counts or more wheat. Also, they can alter the length of time the product is aged or how it is aged. The results vary and produce a variety of smooth and complicated flavors. Here are the legal Standards of Identity:
(1)(i) “Bourbon whisky”, “rye whisky”, “wheat whisky”, “malt whisky”, or “rye malt whisky” is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.