Archive for the ‘Microdistilleries’ Category

Guest Blogger: Dave Pickerell, former Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark bourbon

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

We are honored to have Dave Pickerell as our guest blogger for January. Dave was the Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark for many years, and he really knows his stuff!

I asked him to give his thoughts on what’s going on with the micro-distilling movement, and here’s what he has to say. Thanks Dave!

He has a few questions for you at the end of his post. Post up your thoughts.

First off, I appreciate having the opportunity to “stand in” for John.  His knowledge, depth of insight and understanding and passion for the industry are evident in everything he does.  It is truly an honor to be here.  Thanks, John.

Since I left Maker’s Mark in April 2008, two things have captured most of my attention:  micro-distilling and rye whiskey.  I have spent untold hours probing the depths of both areas.  In fact, Oak View Consulting, LLC. came to life as a result of all that I have discovered here.  When people ask me just what I am trying to accomplish, I tell them that I am trying to “Put feet on dreams”.  However, with a bit of introspection that seems to come with each New Year, I now realize that I am not just trying to put feet on other people’s dreams … they are my dreams, too.

I have met with literally dozens of people who were interested in starting up some sort of distillery or other.  All of them have a passion, but some realize that they do not have enough know-how to get moving, while others are concerned that they may not have enough capital to actually get things off the ground.  It is my observation that many folks that want to start up a new distillery dream of making some sort of whiskey.  However, start-up and maturation costs run in the face of the business plan, and they end up making vodka or maybe gin instead.

Part of my dream is seeing lots of new expressions of whiskey … good ones … from all over America… hit the market… representing a new sort of terroir, where true geographical differences in the U.S. can not only be expressed but also clearly differentiated.  I believe that the effects of locality on grain, water, and climate can be best expressed in a micro-distillery.  Especially in the US, the big whiskey guys pretty much all express the same terroir … because they are located within a stone’s throw of each other and because they pretty much are so big that they are forced to buy commodity grain.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of very good whiskies being produced in the US … it’s just that locality has never been much of an issue.

It occurred to me that two things need to happen.  First, it is essential that the cost of equipment come down to a more affordable price.  Second, it would be good to have a competent one-stop source of information and help to get things up and running. Hopefully, I can in some way help with both of these issues.  I have been working with Vendome Copper and Brass Works on a holistic approach to micro-distilling … and thanks to a great deal of effort on their part, they have already had tremendous results in reducing the capital costs for starting a micro-distillery.  Additionally, I hope that any expertise that I might have gained through my years in the industry might also be helpful to some in getting things up and running.

Finally, the rye … with its bold and delicious character… There has been a lot of talk about the resurgence of Rye Whiskey … and to traditional cocktails (like the Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan) that are absolutely delicious with a good measure of rye… no need to cover all that ground again.  Anyone who has had occasion to chat with me over the last year knows that I believe it is time to advance this category with a bold new expression or two … that’s my personal dream.

What do you think about the future of micro-distilling  (whether here in the U.S. or abroad)? And what do you think about my theories on terroir and its influence on a given whiskey’s flavor profile? And do you think rye will be the new hot whiskey of choice, or will it be something else?

“Whiskey” show on the History Channel: Tomorrow!

Friday, November 13th, 2009

For those of you who still have not seen this very informative show, it is running again tomorrow, Saturday, November 14th, at 7 pm on the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” series.

There are some great distillery tours and interviews, along with some interesting historical discussions about whiskey. And yes, I am peppered throughout the show as the “independent expert”.

Be sure to watch it (or DVR it) if you haven’t seen it yet. I pasted the summary paragraph on the show from the History Channel’s website below.

    Modern Marvels “Whiskey” :
Known to Irish monks as “water of life”, visit some of the world’s finest distilleries to see how each country brews this thousand-year old spirit. Jack Daniels tells the secret of charcoal filtering, Jim Beam shows its premium bourbons and the art of blending is revealed at Canadian Club Whiskey. Cross the Atlantic to get the real deal at Jameson’s Distillery in Midleton, Ireland and in Scotland discover what gives Glenlivet its character. Meet some of the people who are lucky enough to sample whiskey for a living. Cheers!

Stranahan’s grows, moves, brews, grooves…

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Stranahan’s, the maker’s of straight Rocky Mountain whisky, has outgrown its existing location and is moving to a larger one where they’ll be able to add more distilling equipment and make their own wash (distiller’s beer). The current distillery is closing today.

Here’s the press release, which is being sent to the masses tomorrow. You’re getting it here on WDJK one day early.

DENVER – Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey™, a distinctive small-batch whiskey cultivated in Colorado’s first-ever micro-distillery, has outgrown its current facility and will move to a larger facility at 200 South Kalamath Street in Denver on May 6th. 

The new, larger micro-distilling facility will enable Stranahan’s to better meet increasing demand by adding distilling equipment and increasing production. In addition, Stranahan’s will now be able to produce its own proprietary distiller’s wash, or mash, which was formerly supplied by Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colo.  This special four-barley fermented wash is part of what gives the Stranahan’s recipe its distinctive flavor.

“This move marks a new chapter for Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey,” said founder Jess Graber. “We’re thrilled that the demand for our small-batch whiskey has increased to the point where we need a larger facility.”

We wish the good folks at Stranahan’s all the best in their new location. And keep on making good, interesting whisky.

Het Anker Brewery to distill whisky

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Today you get two blog postings for the price of one…

The makers of the delicious Gouden Carolus beer in Belgium is getting into the whisky-making business. They dipped their toe in the water by having a whisky made for them, under their specifications using wash based on their Gouden Carolus Tripel beer. (I tasted it and liked it. My review is coming shortly.) Now they are going to build their own distillery and make their own whisky.

Here’s the official press release which I just received:

Het Anker Brewery is going to build Belgium’s first authentic and traditional whisky distillery!

As a result of the successful launch of the Gouden Carolus Single Malt, the brewery decided to build a brand new, traditional whisky distillery. Although there are already a handful of companies in Belgium who produce whisky, Het Anker will be the first distillery with Pot Stills (large copper kettles which end in a swan neck shape).

A beautiful concept and a fairy tale location.The distillery will not be built at the brewery premises at Mechelen, but in the village of Blaasveld (Willebroek) and this for a very important “historical” reason. The Molenberg estate, a little green “Eden” between the Mechelsesteenweg and the Klaterstraat has been owned by the same family since the 17th century . This family, the Van Breedams, was a dynasty of millers who also had a jenever distillery.

The current owner Charles Leclef, (the fifth Van Breedam-generation) and also owner of the Het Anker Brewery, will use this location to build the distillery, museum and visitors center. The beautiful estate with its rich history will rise again in full glory.

Due to this ambitious venture Willebroek and Blaasveld will become known worldwide.  Even better, Blaasveld will have a new and unique regional product!

The renovation of the estate will start at the beginning of May. The distillery will produce its first spirit on 31 December at midnight, and this after a century of silence…

For more information:
Charles Leclef – +32 (0) 015 287 147 –
Ali Bosmans – +32 (0) 015 287 147  – 0497 416 166 –

If their new whisky tastes as good as the whisky they contracted to have made for them, then we are in for a treat.

Update on Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I had the opportunity to try one of the most recent Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky from the Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia and was impressed by how improved the whisky was compared to the earlier releases. If you haven’t tried the Wasmund’s recently, you might want to if you have the opportunity.

I spoke with Rick Wasmund, Master Distiller, and he also explained a new concept he is introducing: the Wasmund’s Distillers Art series. Basically, he is selling two different pure spirits (unaged). One is single malt spirit; the other is a rye spirit (2/3 Rye, 1/3 Barley). The spirit is being sold at 62% ABV!

Then, they are also selling 2 liter barrels which you can buy and age the spirit in it until you are ready to drink it. (Of course, you can always drink the spirit without aging it too! I tried both spirits and they tasted pretty good.)

Rick also told me that he’s aging a rye whiskey for release later on this year to compliment his flagship single malt release. So, interesting stuff coming from the Copper Fox distillery these days.

Yep, we screw up too!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Long term readers of Malt Advocate know that we always try to be fair and balanced in our writing. Sometimes even we fail to live up to our own standards. This happened with our cover story in our last issue on craft distilling here in the U.S. We didn’t include the Anchor Distillery, makers of Old Potrero, the first of a now-growing number of craft whiskey distillers. How could we do something that silly?
Well, the intent of the piece was to introduce our readers to the new craft distillers making whisky this past decade. For reasons too long to explain here, we actually ended up including some of the veteran craft distillers, but completely forgot Anchor, and the pioneering influence they had on craft distilling (not to mention the great whiskey they continue to make.)
We are not trying to make excuses for ourselves, but sometimes something a whiskey (or person or distillery) is so obvious to us because we are exposed to it all the time, we just (innocently) take it for granted. That’s what happened here and we apologize to Anchor, to Fritz Maytag and his staff for this. It was never our intention to keep them out of the story.

We’re not perfect. We make mistakes too. But when we do, we try to do our best to correct it.

History Channel “Whiskey” show rebroadcasts on St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

In case you missed it when it originally broadcasted on St. Patrick’s day last year, the History Channel’s Modern Marvel’s series “Whiskey” show will be rebroadcasted on March 17, 2009 at 10 AM and 4 PM. (That means you can learn about whiskey and then still go out later on and drink it!)

If you haven’t seen it yet, it is informative and entertaining. And yes, you’ll have to put up with several quotes from me throughout the show. I tagged some of the distilleries that they visit during the show.

If anyone wants to really see the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, this is the show to watch. They show the sugar maple charcoal mellowing vats. In fact, they actually show the sugar maple being burned to make the charcoal. Cool stuff!

Gouden Carolus Single Malt Whisky

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

For those of you who don’t know, I wrote about beer long before I started writing about whisky. In fact, Malt Advocate was originally On Tap, a beer publication (but that was a long time ago). I still drink more beer than whisky and I still review beers for All About Beer magazine.

So it was with great interest that I received a note today from Ali Bosmans of the Het Anker brewery in Belgium. I love Belgian beers. In fact, the two beers on tap at my house right now are Chimay Tripel and Dupont’s Avec Les Bons Voeux. (This is probably more than you need to know about me and my love of Belgian ales. Sorry for the digression.)

I’ve been to Belgium a few times, touring breweries. I toured the Het Anker Brewery in 1994. This is where the delicious Gouden Carolus beer is made. It turns out that they are now making single malt whisky. The first series of releases were made at a different distillery (that makes Genever), but they are installing pot stills at the brewery and will be making their own whisky at the brewery. Here’s the info from Ali:

I know, you know a lot of beer…So I think you certainly know the Gouden Carolus and Cuvee van de Keizer etc…  from our brewery “Het Anker” in Belgium. All high quality beers! In 2003 we decided to do a test… we distilled the Gouden Carolus Tripel mash and let it sleep in first fill Jim Beam casks.

Last year we bottled the first edition. At the end of 2008 we decided to release a limited edition “Connoisseur’s Pack”.

The whisky is so successful that we decided to build our own pot still distillery. (The first whisky we made is distilled by Filliers in column stills.)  Our new distillery will have pot stills: a  5000l wash still and a 3200l spirit still producing 538 L spirit/day.We will be the first in Belgium to do so. The first middle cut will take place at 31 December 2009 at midnight!

I know that we export a lot of beer to the States, and we also have a good reputation. So, I think that in 3 years time we will also export the Gouden Carolus Single Malt.” And maybe one day (it is a dream) I will come to the WhiskyFest Chicago or San Francisco to present this NEW Belgian product!

We would love to have you join us at WhiskyFest, Ali, pouring your new whisky. It’s something we can look forward to.

Review: Cascade Peak Oregon Organic Rye whiskey

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

I’ll post up one more microdistillery whiskey before reviewing more mainstream whiskeys. This one really shows promise. It has a lot more going for it than the Rogue Dead Guy whiskey I reviewed earlier in the week.

Cascade Peak Oregon Organic Rye (Batch #1), 50.2%, $52
This whisky is only 9 months old, made from 85% rye and 15% malted barley. It’s vibrantly spicy (cinnamon, mint, licorice root, nutmeg), fresh and clean. Bright citrus and peach also entertain. Rich, underlying vanilla notes try to tame the beast, but it’s really no match. Warm, spicy finish. There’s a lot going on here. Yes, it’s youthful, but far more mature than I expected. This whisky is certainly drinkable now (for those who like their rye whiskey young and bold), but I would like to see it develop some more on oak. That’s the only thing missing here. It shows great potential.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 77

Review: Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I’ve been posting reviews of U.S. microdistilleries over the past week or two, so I thought I’d include another one. But don’t go too far out of your way to find a bottle of this one.

Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey, 40%, $40
I love Rogue beers as well as their attitude and philosophy. But this whiskey tastes just too immature—harsh, sweet and one-dimensional. Maybe with some additional aging this whiskey might come around, mellow out and develop, but it has a long way to go.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 69