Guest post: The Bourbon Boom & Artisanal Cheese Waves Hit San Diego

Check out my first guest post, by Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario. You never know what can come of a chance meeting – read on to find out!

I wanted to report in on The San Diego Spirits Festival where each day I presented my All-Wisconsin/All-Sartori Artisanal Cheese and Fine Bourbon Pairing Adventure Seminars.   The festival was huge and held on a roofed pier which went out into the bay with seagulls flying and waves splashing.   I believe over 6,000 people joined in the fun this weekend.   The 7th Annual San Diego Spirits Festival is now the largest Cocktail & Culinary Spirits Festival in Southern California.   Most of the guests at the festival were there to learn and improve their knowledge about spirits, along with pairing culinary products and cooking.   No one in any of my seminars had ever tried pairing cheese with spirits and now they will.   I made each person my Cheese Scroll with information on each Sartori cheese, the cheesemaker and the Bourbon.   The Cheese Impresario- Teaching Sartori Cheese & Bourbon

Part of the pleasure of The San Diego Spirit Festival is the people you meet.   I saw a group of interesting women checking out the different spirits and they had tee shirts on with a cool logo – The guide to craft spirits.  RAD!   I went over to them and we got talking about Jeanne Runkle’s passion for craft spirits and the people who take such pride in what they produce.   I felt like I was meeting a kindred spirit because I changed my life to follow my passion for artisanal cheese and the talented family cheesemakers.   I quit my advertising career and re-invented myself as Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario.   I launched with the Oscars and I am now a nationally known cheese expert, cheese educator, cheese writer and cheese entertainer.  Jeanne founded to educate people on the growing world of craft spirits.  It is my pleasure to know Jeanne and it will be my happiness to watch her as she grows and prospers.

I paired four different Reserve artisanal cheeses from fourth generation Wisconsin cheesmaking family, Sartori with two different flavor expressions of fine Bourbon.    The Bourbon I paired the cheeses with was Woodford Reserve.   This Kentucky masterpiece is made in two deep flavors; Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select and the very different in taste, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.   It was a blast to teach my students about how different each cheese is with a differently made fine Bourbon.  My seminar students were blown away by how exciting the flavors were and will bring this concept into their homes to share with their friends and family.  While I’m traveling around the country, I see that people are craving information on what cheese will be delicious paired with which beverage and it my honor to give them this information.Espresso BellaVitanoAs we become more interested in where our food and drink comes from and who made it, the opportunity to thrill your guests with something delicious and easy to present is…artisanal cheeses paired with a selection of Bourbons.  I’ll share one of the pairings from The San Diego Spirits Festival.   Sartori Reserve’s Espresso BellaVitano was created by Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker, Mike Matucheski.   He invented a true American Original cow’s milk cheese that’s winning awards all over the planet.  BellaVitano is not a Cheddar and not a Parmesan but something in this range but very unique.  Sartori has developed many flavors of BellaVitano like Chai Tea, Raspberry, Merlot and the Espresso BellaVitano I used in my seminars that’s hand-rubbed with ground espresso beans.   What an exciting pairing this cheese was the Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon with its rich, cinnamon, coca, caramel and even chocolate notes with the richness of the Espresso BellaVitano was my students’ favorite pairing.    

San Diego’s Mayor also proclaimed Saturday San Diego Spirits Day; it was quite exciting seeing this happen. I can’t wait for next year’s San Diego Spirits Festival and am planning what I’ll be doing with pairing artisanal cheeses with fine spirits.

I have a series on the Internet, CHEESE RULES with host Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario where I showcased my award-winning grilled cheese sandwich made with Sartori’s Dolcina Gorgonzola and a layer of peanut brittle for that sweet/savory combination.   NFL and Super Bowl star, Shaun Phillips and I made this sandwich together and paired it with a Bourbon Manhattan Cocktail.  Fabulous!   Google my series and you’ll find it easily for additional ideas about entertaining with cheese.


Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario

The Cheese Impresario Spirits--- high res

One bad (pear) can spoil the bunch! Clear Creek Distillery

Clear Creek Distillery has been distilling since the mid-1980s, before anyone even thought about coining the term “craft distilling”. Steve McCarthy started making his from the fruit of his family orchards, after a trip to Europe gave him the idea. Brandies and eaux de vie were made as a way to use every bit of the fruit from an orchard, when large-scale refrigeration wasn’t really an option. Necessity being the parental figure it is, farmers realized they could make spirits from the rest of the crop before it spoiled.

People have pre-conceived notions of “brandy” (defined as an alcoholic spirit distilled from wine or fermented juice).  Eau de vie is technically clear fruit brandy, but no one in the US was familiar with the term, which gave McCarthy a chance to explain the process and skip over those notions of “brandy”. What followed has been more than twenty years of making eaux de vie from the local fruits, and selling to a small but growing market.

caitlin with stillI had the pleasure of talking with Caitlin Bartlemay, one of Clear Creek’s distillers. Working toward a degree in wine and fermentation, Caitlin realized she had a singular desire: to distill spirits. She worked toward that goal, and initially landed a gig at Integrity Spirits that involved, “peeling copious amounts of cucumbers”.  She continued to pursue an internship with Clear Creek, and eventually her perseverance paid off!

Caitlin is now a big part of  the distilling team at Clear Creek that makes a single malt that’s a match for some of the best stuff coming out of Scotland, an assortment of liqueurs and seven kinds of eau de vie. Half a million pounds of pears were used in 2013 just to make their pear eau de vie.  And not just any pear – it needs to be a Bartlett pear, otherwise you end up with a far less flavorful brandy. The pears are notably difficult to work with. They aren’t fully tree-ripened (with the final ripening carefully monitored in-house), and then they must be used within a fairly short amount of time.  Plus, just one bad pear in the container can make the whole batch taste off. While refrigeration helps to control the conditions, a half million pounds of pears is no joke! Caitlin and the rest of the distillery staff are up to their eyeballs in pears for a couple of months. prod pears eyes

One of the more unique things about Clear Creek pear eau de vie is the pear in the bottle. Not a slice of pear – but the entire fruit! The first time you see it, it makes you tilt your head in the way your dog does when you say something he’s pretty sure ends in, “treat”. Clear Creek works with a local orchard, where the bottles are lashed to branches, shortly after the pear forms.  Give it a little time and some luck that the bottle doesn’t fall off or the pear grows oddly, and voila! Pear in a bottle. It’s the same eau de vie as the bottles without the pear, but how cool does that look sitting on your table?

Clear Creek also uses an assortment of other local fruits and botanicals, like the Douglas Fir. Their Doug Fir eau de vie ended up as an ingredient in the basket on Food Network’s popular show, Chopped! Clear Creek’s spirits have also been used by the likes of Bobby Flay, and the chefs at the White House.

McCarthy's  for CaitlinMcCarthy’s Single Malt Whiskey, made in the Scottish style, leaves Caitlin with smokey-smelling clothes when they make it just once a year. Based on the 2013 bottle that I have, I’m glad that Caitlin is willing to be a bit..fragrant, shall we say…because the whiskey is fantastic! I’m typically a Bourbon and rye fan, with a limited tolerance for the smokey, peaty taste of Scotch. McCarthy’s is so good it earned one of the two spots I have for Scotch on my shelf. If you can find it – either at a local whiskey bar or in a shop- I’d highly recommend trying it!

Clear Creek offers tastings at the distillery, and you can buy bottles there, too. A few times a year, they do open the production area, when the staff will give samples from the still and tours throughout the day (there are no daily tours – they have a super small staff!). Check their website if a tour is what you’re after, they list the dates on the Tasting & Sales page. If you do stop by, tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you! Cheers!

What happens when you put three moonshiners in a room? Short Mountain Distillery!

Recently, I attended the San Diego Spirits Festival. It tends to be heavily focused on the big(ger) name brands, with a sprinkling of craft distillers. One of my favorites of the day was Short Mountain Distillery. Initially, I will admit that I had the same reaction some of you may have to seeing the word, “moonshine”. Maybe you tried the other stuff (some with fruit, some not) and didn’t really like it.  But my job is to try things, even after having a less-than-tasty experience, so I can tell you about it.  And I can safely say, I’m really glad I tried Short Mountain’s ‘shine!Mule logo

I had the pleasure of talking to their founder, Billy Kaufman, about how he makes such a tasty moonshine.  Short Mountain Distillery is Tennessee’s sixth distillery –  and what makes it even more interesting, they operate in a dry county! Yes, there are counties (leftover from Prohibition) that don’t allow the sale of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Short Mountain worked to get the rules changed, and they were on their way!

Let’s back up a bit first: back in 2001, Billy moved to Tennessee with the goal of starting an organic, sustainable farm. And he succeeded by installing erosion protection, water conservation systems and fencing.  “Little Short Mountain Farm is nestled in 300 acres of land that Kaufman wants to protect and make a viable part of our community.”  Sounds like the perfect place – to make moonshine?! While he’d achieved his goal of an organic farm, Billy’s an entrepreneur. Like his great-grandpa, the guy who founded Samsonite, he’s always thinking. There’s a cave spring on the farm that according to local legend, was where local moonshiners made moonshine that supplied Al Capone’s speakeasies in the northeast. The wheels ever turning, Billy contacted some of the local ‘shiners, picturing in his head a great collaboration, using their different recipes and techniques.

The collaboration lasted all of 10 minutes.

Why? Because all three moonshiners used the same recipe! What’s easier to carry into the backwoods (by the light of the moon): a big bag of sugar, or many bags of corn? If you’re trying to keep ahead of the law, you chose sugar. In this case, Short Mountain’s moonshine is 70% sugar, 30% corn. But don’t go thinking that this moonshine is sweet. Sugar makes it smooth, not sweet – and it’s still 105 proof.  I will say it’s probably the smoothest 105 anything I’ve had, let alone something labeled as moonshine.

Another flavor of moonshine that’s pretty popular is apple/apple pie. There are subtle differences between apple and apple pie – things like cinnamon and spices, maybe a little sweetener for the pie version. I’ve had whiskies blended  with different kinds of apple (both flavors and more of a liqueur-whiskey blend), but this is actually tastes like a pie.  Even down to the slight hint of a buttery crust. No, really. It does! 10616161_704863202883419_6230232163873791233_n

Some common misconceptions about moonshine are that it doesn’t taste good straight, and it should be cheap. When was the last time you bought a bag of sugar? It was probably between 1-5 pounds, which set you back maybe $5. Multiple that by the quantities needed to make moonshine, it’s no longer a cheap proposition. To get the flavor that he wants, Billy makes huge cuts – meaning he gets about half the amount of alcohol out of each run that a whiskey distiller might. That definitely shows his commitment to making a quality product. Fruit was also used to mask the taste of poorly cut moonshine. If you make it right, you don’t need to do that – fruit is an enhancement. Billy and his team take the time, and spend the money, to make a great moonshine. Apple pie and Prohibition Tea (his other flavor) aren’t made because they have to mask anything, but to add variety to cocktails.  You can also read about the government’s rules that do (and do not) apply to moonshine in my post, “Moonshine isn’t what you think it is“.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a motto that Billy and his brothers live by. They even include it as part of Short Mountain’s branding. They contribute to the local economy by creating jobs, the farm is organic and sustainable (even the livestock benefits – they eat the spent grains from the mash) and Billy is doing what he believes in. “The best moonshine ever made, made even better” is their other motto. After tasting it, that’s a motto I can believe in!

If you happen to be in Tennessee, there are distillery tours that will give you an inside look at the process Billy uses to make his moonshine. If you make it down that way, tell Billy LikeYourLiquor sent you.  Cheers!

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Black Button: not just for suit jackets anymore!

For four generations, Jason Barrett’s family has been keeping men’s suit jackets closed, one button at a time (well, depending on current fashion trends, maybe more, but I digress).  Because Jason’s color-blind, the family joke was that he could always make black buttons. The other thing he discovered he could make, at the age of 19 in his dorm room, was beer. Granted, he wasn’t old enough to buy it in a store, but no law said he couldn’t make it. After a stint in corporate America that showed him he’s not cut out to be a desk jockey, Jason decided to start his own distillery. Wait. What? Buttons…then beer…and now bourbon? Beer and bourbon start out the same way (hopefully you signed up for my newsletter and got a copy of my e-book, What’s In Your Glass Anyway?  to learn that and other fun facts). Jason decided to bend his homebrew skills to distilling and Black Button Distilling was born!

Located in Jason’s hometown of Rochester, NY, beside Rohrbach Brewing Company is a building that has astill lovely but mostly unassuming door…with a button on it. Inside the vintage building is a state-of-the-art distillery, that makes about 900 bottles a week of Black Button’s signature gin, vodka and whiskey. Everything that goes into Black Button’s bottles is all-natural: grains grown on a nearby farm, botanicals from the area. Grain-to-glass is a term is used by small distillers, to describe their handcrafted spirits and Black Button closely follows that philosophy.

What’s even more awesome is that Black Button opened less than a year ago, and is already cranking out booze that people are raving about. Their gin is named Citrus Forward Gin, because as Jason said, “Who wants to be smacked in the face with a Christmas tree??”. I’d agree! While juniper is required for the hooch to be called gin, it doesn’t have to taste like you’re chomping down a branch of it.  Black Button’s Yelp reviews say it nicely, “Where the magic happens,” and “My favorite when I went was the gin. Yum!”.

Currently on the menu alongside the gin is their Wheat Vodka and Moonshine. Jason did his homework when he learned distilling, and shared a bit of it with me. Moonshine is the unaged version of a distillery’s whiskey. But it’s not as simple as just putting it in a bottle instead of a barrel to age. To get a moonshine that’s tasty on its own, a distiller needs to choose the best place to cut what’s coming off the still. Heads are first, hearts, then tails. You don’t really want to drink either the heads nor tails, but some of both are required to get the right flavor profile as a spirit ages in a barrel. Since moonshine’s going straight into a bottle, a distiller must be more careful in choosing how much or how little of the heads and tails to include.  Jason believes that this cut is what sets Black Button’s moonshine apart from some of the other stuff on the shelf.Jason

Last but certainly not least according to the Yelpers is Black Button’s maple syrup. They get fresh maple syrup from Vermont and let it age for a short time in used whiskey barrels, which will later be used to finish Jason’s four grain bourbon. But for now, they produce what one reviewer called, “liquid crack!”. Pass the pancakes please, I think I’ve found a new home.

Live Large…in small batches is the motto on the Black Button website. Did I mention that Jason’s only in his mid-twenties?  I’d say he’s definitely following his own motto.

Black Button Distilling’s products are available all over the Rochester area with plans in the works to expand across New York. They also give distillery tours and have some great merchandise in the tasting room. If you’re in the area, stop by and tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you! Cheers!



Sorel: the 65th Crayon

Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.

-Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

That’s probably one of my favorite movies and movie quotes.  And for Jack Summers, never were truer words spoken, the day his doctor said, “We think you have an Ependymoma”. Surviving not only the cancer scare (benign, thankfully), but also the surgery that could’ve paralyzed him, Jack was sent down a whole new path.  One that has led him to the delicious business of making Sorel, a hibiscus liqueur that comes from his Caribbean roots.

Jack From Brooklyn

Jack From Brooklyn

After a couple of decades of marching to the corporate drum, Jack faced the Reaper – and survived. You can read his full account here. One of the things that struck me was when he was struggling to come to terms with his looming date with the surgeon: he didn’t give in to a case of, “Why me?” . In the early dawn hours on a beach in Cancun, tequila in hand, Jack had a chat with Death – and this is what he was told:  ““Truthfully Jack, I don’t understand why this has you so shaken up. This is not the first time I’ve come for you. It’s just the first time you’re paying attention.”

Surgery successfully behind him, it was time to put corporate America in the rearview, too, and follow his passion. He’d been perfecting the recipe for Sorel in his kitchen during that same time (I’d agree that an office job could drive one to drink make booze, just sayin’).  Hibiscus is notoriously difficult to work with, and the spices Jackie chose were also dominant players: Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia and nutmeg, Nigerian ginger. Trial and error, blending the ingredients so they danced together (and not like a West Side story thing), getting the acidic hibiscus to play nice all took time. Fortunately, after almost 2 decades of experimenting, it wasn’t long before the final recipe for Sorel was ready.

SORELHandsDuring a series of Skype chats I got to know, at least a bit, the man behind the brand.  Don’t get me wrong – Sorel is fantastic, and if I’d not met Jack, I’d still think it was tasty. But there’s something extra that comes from talking with Jack, hearing his observations on life, business and being happy with what you do, that added an extra dimension to my first taste of Sorel.

Did I mention that his new distillery, housed in a 165 year old building in Red Hook, was hit by Hurricane Sandy? But six feet of water wasn’t enough to stop a man raised on such mottos as, “May you live forever and may you never die”, (his mom’s favorite toast) and “We don’t waste alcohol in this house – there are sober children in Africa”. Don’t get me wrong – Sandy was a disaster of immense proportion, whose aftereffects are still being felt.  But if Death couldn’t take Jack, what makes you think a little excess water could?

I asked Jack what the strangest way someone had used Sorel.  A retail manager sent him an email about a customer that he introduced to Sorel, by way of a bet…that the customer lost.  The challenge was that if the manager could pair Sorel with any bottle of the customer’s choosing, the customer would buy both bottles.  Game on!  The customer chose….Laphroaig. If you’re not familiar with them, here’s a hint: Laphroaig is currently running a customer opinion campaign, asking for descriptions of their Scotch.  One customer describes it as a, “big, peaty slap in the face”. The manager was up to the challenge – and the customer went home happy, with a new favorite.

No doubt, Jack’s had more than a few challenges the last few years (yes, this didn’t happen over many years, only about 4). Here’s what he had to say on that score: “Talent counts, luck counts, but resolve will get you through the tough spots. And there will be tough spots daily. Figure out what the insurmountable task of the day is, then surmount the living hell out of it.”

Words to live by, no matter if you’re a guy making tasty liquor in Red Hook, a girl making coffee in Seattle, or a spirits writer in San Diego. sorel

Feni? What is it anyway?

Ever wonder where a cashew comes from? That little Planters guy conjures them up with his cane?  Nope. They fall from a rainbow like Skittles? Wrong again! They actually grow on a tree inside a cashew apple.  Um, really?  The cashew nut is a bit sexier than its accessory fruit (but admittedly, not by much), which looks a little like a pumpkin and a bell pepper had a hot night together. So when you take out the nut (enter Planters dude stage left), you’re left with the cashew apple.  But now what? You press the livin’ daylights out of it to get cashew apple juice.  The juice has more vitamin C than most any other fruit or veggie.  I can hear you thinking, “That’s nifty and all, but isn’t this supposed to be about alcohol?”.  Right you are!  If you distill it once, you get something called urrak, that’s about 30 proof and mixes well with lemonade for a light summer drink. If you distill it a second time, it becomes cazulo (urrak mixed with some of the fermented cashew apple juice). A third round, where you mix the cazulo and urrak together and distill it again, gives you the higher proof spirit, Feni, which is the moral of the cashew nut story.DSC_1309

In India, in the state of Goa, the cashew apple tree grows.  They’ve been distilling the juice for many years, with thousands of micro-distillers selling feni to their local customers. It’s only distilled from February to mid-May, and is dependent on the size of the seasonal crop.  In 2009, Feni was given a fancy certification by the government (Geographical Indication, if you’d like to Google it – I’ll wait). It basically means that if it’s called Feni, it can only be made in Goa. Like Bourbon can only be made in the US, cashew Feni can only be made in Goa.

I can hear you thinking again.  This time, it’s “Isn’t this site about American craft liquor?”.  And yes, by and large it is.  I don’t cover big labels (except in the occasional comparison), because they have gazillion dollar marketing budgets and certainly don’t need my help.  But the stories I write here are also about being an entrepreneur, grabbing your piece of the American Dream.  And that’s just what Drew Whited and his partners did.

Drew Whited

Drew Whited

While doing some market research in LA for another venture, they were in communities with large Indian American populations.  They kept hearing about feni.  Intrigued, they fired up their laptops and went to work researching it.  After deciding it was something worth at least some initial investigation, they scheduled meetings with Goa’s top feni producers and took off for India.

Spending time with the families that produce feni convinced Drew and his partners that  they needed to find a way to get Feni into the US. After negotiating an exclusive agreement to import Feni into the US, the real work began. <insert months of boring government compliance work here>  Finally, it was July 2014 and Feni was legal in the US.

Feni_1Drew and his partners launched Feni in Chicago in July 2014. Chicago has the country’s third largest population of Indian Americans, who hopefully will be eager for a taste of feni, without having to travel half way across the globe. In Goa, feni is treated as a destination beverage, with elaborate bottles that are part of the state’s standing as a vacation spot, with sandy beaches and tasty feni. And when I say “vacation spot”, this isn’t the Jersey Shore. Goa is the smallest but richest state in India and is often the site of weddings, celebrations and other destination events. The design of the bottle, complete with a gold cap and an image of Buddha, are meant to echo the exotic beverage as it’s consumed in its native country.

Make sure to check out the recipes on and also the custom cocktail that BeautifulBooze created!  Cheers!

My tale from Tales of the Cocktail 2014

Some tales begin with, “it was a dark and stormy night”.  Some begin with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. For my tale, it began with a Vieux Carre, made in its birthplace, New Orleans. I’m talking about Tales of the Cocktail, and this is my Tale.

Vieux Carre at the Hotel Moneteleone - the first of many

Vieux Carre at the Hotel Moneteleone – the first of many

Tales of the Cocktail 2014 is billed as the world’s premier cocktail event, and it’s held in two cities: Buenos Aires and New Orleans.  For my first event, I thought I’d stick a little closer to home, plus, I’d never been to Nawlins before. The buzz among some of my Twitterverse friends decided it: I have to give a shout out to William Lorca (@acubsfan007) for hanging out with me and taking all the pictures I was apparently not taking. He’s the purveyor of fine opinions on everything from bourbon to the service level of rental car companies – you should follow him!  I booked a flight, bought some seminar tickets and waited many long months til July.  It was finally here – off on my first Tales adventure!

For the small investment of about $100 (you can spend more), you get tickets to 2 seminars of your choosing, plus a wristband that gets you into every tasting room.  Free.  I’m an adult, I’ve learned to pace myself through these kinds of events, but nothing prepared me for 6 days of cocktails.

Krista from JAD, Jason of Blue Jay Syrups and Warren Bobrow

Krista from JAD, Jason of Blue Jay Syrups and Warren Bobrow

My fabulous new friends at Jersey Artisan Distilling and Blue J Syrups hosted their own tasting room the first morning. I’d purposely scheduled nothing earlier than 10:30 on any day, because that seems reasonable, right? Sure – until you don’t get in til 3 or 4, you are mostly sure that dinner happened and what’s stuck to your shoe? Fortunately, it was the first day, so I was relatively fresh (I said, relatively) that morning. I manned the giveaway table, handing out fabulous t-shirts, shot glasses and assorted stuff for JAD. It was fun! Two hours passed quickly, meeting many lovely people and telling them about Jersey’s first distillery since Prohibition. Check out my interview with co-founder, Krista Haley. Neat or mixed with the fantastic concoctions from Blue J Syrups (I highly recommend JAD’s dark rum with the Earl Grey Lavender!), Busted Barrel rum is quite tasty!

Whew. Off to a seminar about starting your own (spirits) company.  That’s the way the title was written and as it turns out, it really was slightly more about starting “a” company, than a liquor company.  All good information, though.  My other official seminar wasn’t until Thursday, so I was free to roam the various tasting rooms.

Will Lorca, Ricardo from Sotol, yours truly and Jamie from Cinch

Will Lorca, Ricardo from Sotol, yours truly and Jamie from Cinch

It does help to have a plan – there are SO many things going on, that you want to make sure that you get to your first choices, and then since there’s likely time, your second choices.  One of the things that I really liked, as a spirits writer: I was not only tasting things myself, but I could talk to other people doing the same thing. I’ve said it before – I’m not going to write a review that says, “this whiskey tastes like blue flowers with a hint of cigarette ash that’s been wiped out of grandma’s ashtray”. Not only does my palate not tell me that stuff all the time (thank you, allergies), but seriously – I write reviews that I can relate to, hoping that works for you as well. So talking to people that are tasting the same thing, at the same time I am, was really interesting.

One of my favorites was the OYO Stone Fruit vodka by Middle West Spirits – you really can taste the fruits. Real fruit, not fruit flavors. Some of my favorites: cherries, apricots, peaches. Yum! Keep an eye out for an interview with the founder, Ryan Lang, and possibly a product review in the coming weeks.

Another favorite was Philadelphia Distilling’s The Bay Vodka.  I grew up back East, eating a ton of Old Bay on steamed crabs, so this was like a taste of home.  And put it in a good Bloody Mary mix?  Divine.  They even served it with oysters on the half shell – apparently they’d heard I’d be there.

Standing back from the tables, looking to see who was next on the list of things to try, I saw a lovely lady carrying a box of little flip-top bottles. Chance conversations are always the best – I think mine started with something truly witty like, “So why are you carrying that box around?”.  Turns out she is Jamie Imhof, and she was there to test out her new line of tonics, Cinch Cocktail Tonics.  Their tagline is, “the cure for the common cocktail”, which I definitely agree. Jamie was also carrying around a full test batch , so over dinner, I was able to try all the things that are currently in R&D at Cinch.  Trust me – you want them to be ready soon!  Great flavors that will compliment any cocktail. I’ve got a test bottle of #2 that I’ll be reviewing soon.  Can’t wait!

Another chance meeting (at the pool party this time), was Ricardo Rodriguez, brand ambassador for Sotol Hacienda De Chihuahua.  Named after the plant it’s distilled from (Desert Spoon), Sotol is tequila’s northern cousin, distilled primarily in the region of Chihuahua.  I’m not typically a fan of tequila, but I’m always game to try something new (can’t be much of a spirits writer if I don’t!).  Fortunately for me, Ricardo’s ridiculously heavy bag contained samples of all the versions of Sotol.  I can safely say that Sotol is now added to my list of tasty beverages, especially the Crema version – a great riff on a cream based liqueur (think Bailey’s) – yum!

Last but certainly not least, my friends at Bayou Rum.  I’d tried their rum back in March, and it’s quite good.  Made in Louisiana, from 100% natural unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses, both light and dark are yummy.  However – their new baby, Satsuma – is the one I’m waiting (im)patiently to find on a shelf. I quite enjoy orange flavors (as long as they’re real) in my cocktails, so I’ve used everything from bitters to Dry Cacacao to just grabbing one out of my fruit bowl and squeezing it into my shaker.  Satsuma is sweet without being too sweet and the orange flavor really comes through (the base is Bayou Silver rum).  Look for my interview with their founder, Trey and (hopefully!!) a product review.

I was also able to meet and hang out with Warren Bobrow, author of Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today and his upcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks Using the World’s Most Popular Spirit.  Warren is friends with and a neighbor of my new friends at Jersey Artisan – how cool is that?Another highlight from my first trip to Tales. Warren also travels with his companion, Klaus the Soused Gnome – follow his adventures on Facebook.

Klaus the Soused Gnome, in his element

Klaus the Soused Gnome, in his element

While there are many other tastes, sights and sounds from NOLA, (pool cucumbers, the best $60 spent in the history of money, and many rounds of refreshing Cointreau cocktails), I think I’ll stop here for now.  Look for the interviews and product reviews from these great distillers soon!  Cheers!

Glasses up to those we love – Bainbridge Organic Distillers

What does the grandson of a whiskey bootlegger do, after running  a marketing company for more than 25 years,  that had clients among the world’s leading liquor companies?  Why, open his own distillery, of course.  Meet Keith Barnes, who founded Bainbridge Organic Distillers, with his son, Paul.

One common thread I’ve found when talking tBainbridge_stripo craft distillers is the mantra: do it right, or not at all. Keith Barnes is no exception to that.  He didn’t get into this business to make a quick buck by just throwing something together to get it on the shelf.  Keith has always been a huge believer in organic agriculture.  Living the Pacific Northwest, he’s right in the middle of some of the cleanest air, water and foods available – and all those organic ingredients go right into his bottles. Douglas fir is indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, adding another local ingredient to the Bainbridge arsenal.

Bainbridge makes three spirits currently: Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin, Battle Point Bourbon and Legacy Organic Vodka (with a vanilla vodka available soon). Winning medals at international spirits competitions isn’t why he got into distilling – but it definitely doesn’t hurt. “Winning a competition against bigger, more tech-savvy distillers is doubly sweet,” Keith said, when I asked about his latest win. Bainbridge was awarded World’s Best Vodka, and also World’s Best Vodka Design for their packaging, from the World Vodka Awards, held recently in London.

Keith describes his vodka as unique and full-flavored, which is a bit of a departure from the typical tasteless, odorless liquid people are familiar with.  (In case you hadn’t noticed, Keith isn’t here to make the same old stuff). But if you’re going to make something that ordinarily has no taste – what do you make it taste like?!

To develop the flavor profile of his gin, Keith tasted between 30 and 40 gins, most of them the modern versions (out of his collection of nearly 2,000 bottles – not all gin, of course).  A small number were pre-1940, back when there weren’t tests and measurements and technical ways to quantify flavors.  It was just a man, or a woman, and their palate.  That’s the way Keith makes his gin – natural, local ingredients, in small batch quantities. Doug Fir is also considered a wet gin (vs the London dry gin you may be familiar with).  Like his vodka, Keith’s Doug Fir gin has a rounded, more lush flavor than some of the big label brands.

Not only does Bainbridge have access to a plethora of organic ingredients for his spirits, but the choice to locate the distillery on an island was no accident. The ocean air adds a characteristic that can’t be mimicked in any other way. A big label bourbon actually puts barrels of their hooch on a ship for upwards of two YEARS, to move the bourbon around in the barrel, and to get hints of the ocean air as it ages. Location, location, location isn’t just true for the real estate biz – it’s a definite bonus for the spirits of Bainbridge.

Bainbridge Organic Distillers isn’t just a distillery.  It’s an expression of Keith’s personal values. He makes his spirits in the cleanest, most sustainable way: it’s a business that he can feel good about handing down to his son.

If you find yourself in Seattle – make sure to take a trip over to Bainbridge Island.  Tasting tours run year round, but check their site before you go (there are seasonal variations).  If you do drop by, say hi to Keith – and tell him LikeYourLiquor sent you!


Whiskey + Enthusiasts = Awesome!

I recently attended my first meeting of the San Diego Whisk(e)y Enthusiasts club.  What’s better than a room full of people that enjoy whiskey? Nothing I can think of!  This meeting was going to be a tasting of Colorado whiskey, so I thought that was a perfect way to get introduced to the group.  Little did I know there was more in store…!

The young lady that was our MC for the evening was going off to Colorado to continue her education in neurobiology – yes, a science nerd led our tasting, how awesome! – and the thought was to also give her an intro to the whiskies she’d soon find readily available. Since I wasn’t sure what to expect from the meeting I didn’t take official tasting notes, so this post isn’t an official review of any of these whiskies, but will give you a basic idea of what they’re like. I’d say grab a bottle if you see them, try it out!CO Whiskies

Peach Street Distillers Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the first taste of the night. This is a tasty bourbon, coming in a 92 proof. I like the quirkiness of their brand (read The Story), and their juice is smooth, sweet and easy drinking.

Leopold Bros. has a lineup that not only includes bourbon, but also gin, absinthe and liqueurs. I haven’t had the opportunity to try anything beyond their whiskey, but if everything else is the same quality, you can be sure you’re getting great spirits not matter which one you try.

Breckenridge Distillery also makes whiskey, vodka and bitters. Their whiskey has a slightly higher amount of rye (to be bourbon, it has to be at least 51% corn, but the rest is up to the distiller). That green rye gives it probably the most bite of the five whiskies in the lineup. I like a little spice to my whiskey sometimes, and Breckenridge delivers that nicely.

Tin Cup Whiskey is made by the guy that also did the last entry on our list, Stranahan’s. There was some lively debate over who actually distills Tin Cup, since it doesn’t say it’s actually distilled in Colorado. Looking at the website, it wasn’t 100% clear to me, either.  Since he also doesn’t call his whiskey “craft liquor”, I’ll leave the debate about who makes it for another day. Taste-wise the least favorite of the 5 for me, but a decent pour.

Stranahan’s was the last of the evening, from Colorado at least (spoiler alert!). Another side-note: while they do make the hooch in Denver (I took the tour there a few months back), they’re owned by Proximo Spirits, home of Jose Cuervo and Three Olives. Take that as you will. Their whiskey is also decent, with their limited-release Snowflake that has a nearly cult following.

Our surprise guest of the evening was Jeffrey Karlovitch, CEO USA and Master Blender for The Lost Distillery Company. While this isn’t a site about Scotch, I wanted to mention it since it was a tasty!  You can read more about it here (and my other musings on big label whiskies).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our whiskey instigator and organizer, Al Silebi. If you’re looking for a bottle of something hard to find, Al’s your guy (at least locally). Head on over to Facebook where you can join the group if you’re in SD. (and if you are, I expect to see you there!)  And just to make you slightly more jealous, here’s a small piece of the whiskey selection available at our gracious hosts, KnB Wine Cellars, my new 2nd home! KnB Walljpg

Whiskey Shortage? Or the Great Whiskey Freakout of 2014?

So, here’s the thing: if you’ve read any spirits-related news lately, you may’ve seen articles on what the “coming” whiskey shortage or what I’m calling The Great Whiskey Freakout of 2014. Everyone from the mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal to respected experts like Chuck Cowdery and Fred Minnick have weighed in. Most of them talk about the big labels, and how decisions of 10-20 years ago are affecting supply today. Popular TV shows like Mad Men are fueling an interest in whiskey, even rye whiskey, that’s not been seen in decades.  And everyone seems to be freaking out.  So let’s look at some of the things we know. [Read more…]

6 Father’s Day gift ideas of whiskey – just add a card!

It’s nearly Father’s Day and the web is awash with gift ideas. For the love of peat (or Pete, either way), try getting him something he might find helpful or useful  or might really like – craft spirits and related goods. A glass or two of the good stuff and he may even forgive your sister for that awful tie.  Maybe.

1. Mixology 101 kit – if you think a cocktail is more your dad’s speed, check out this kit from Sesame Gifts. A selection of bitters, books and a muddler to make whatever cocktail strikes his fancy. Everything but the booze is included. Oh, and no ice, either.

2. If you’re local to Portland, or think your dad would fancy a trip to Oregon, check out a tour of Distillery Row. Six craft distilleries, each with a tour & tasting – there’s sure to be something for every dad, from gin to whiskey to rum.

3. These slightly traditional, mostly not, monogrammed cufflinks are made from the wood of reclaimed bourbon barrels. How cool is that??

4. For the geekier dads, how about  Critical Hit +5 Stones of Frost? (normally I’m not a fan of whiskey stones, but these look fun!)

5. If Dad’s a booze and history buff, he might like a couple books where those two things meet. Check out And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails or Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas.

6. If you already know Pop likes a bit of whiskey now and then (or mostly now), home delivery can be an awesome way to say, “Thanks for not kicking me out of the house even though I’m 35”. Check out Caskers Whiskey Club – three bottles of craft whiskey delivered to his door every three months.

Cheers to all the dads this Father’s Day – and to you, for (finally) getting him stuff he likes!

BO-Beau kitchen + garden review

For my birthday, I’d decided that sitting on my couch starting at the idiot box seemed like a fine idea. My friend’s birthday had been the day before, so we’d gone for dinner and drinks, but somehow overnight, I’d lost interest in my own birthday shenanigans.  Not taking, “Eh, I don’t feel like it,” for an answer, she showed up at my door. She suggested going to the new restaurant nearby (we’d been to its previous incarnation, but weren’t too excited by it). “Just a drink, unwind a little – IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY! You can’t start the year off like this!”.  So, a quick comb, some shoes, a little lip gloss and we were off.

San Diego's Bartender of the Year!!

San Diego’s Bartender of the Year!!

[Read more…]

There’s nothing Ugly about their moonshine, except the name – Kill Devil Spirits Co.

Kill Devil_Ray

Ray Digilio, with his shiny new still

If you drive through a small industrial complex, replete with roll-up doors and concrete, you might wonder what’s behind each door.  If you drove through the one Kill Devil Spirits Co. calls home, I can tell you what’s inside: a fun, informative tour and some great spirits – and oh, they make tasty moonshine and vodka, too!  Meet Ray Digilio, the founder of Kill Devil Spirit Co. and his head distiller, Luke Oskam.

The space may be small, but the things that are coming out of Kill Devil’s distillery are big. With the new change in California law in January, distilleries can now do tastings (but still can’t sell directly – booo) and Kill Devil is taking full advantage of that.  They’ve got a small tasting bar (built from the previous tenant’s weird ceiling thing), so you can try out their spirits about 20 feet from where they’re made.

Inquiring minds wanted to know – where did the name and that funky logo come from? Kill Devil is what the English used to call the rum that was smuggled into traded with the young American colonies – and it sounds cool, so there we’ve got the name. Check.  The logo was the product of a long night’s delirium. The ceiling is high and slightly unfinished in their warehouse – maybe there was a bat making squeaky noises, maybe it was seeing the local jack rabbit population, maybe it was the ringing in the ears of a sleep-deprived Ray… Whatever it was, it all was all combined by his subconscious and he rough-sketched it out the next morning, had some folks clean it up and voila! The Kill Devil logo was born. I must confess, I’m a little curious to see what it looks like after a couple glasses of moonshine, but I digress.

Craft distilling is relatively new, on any kind of scale.  There have been a few small-ish guys around for the last 15-20 years, but nothing like the numbers we have now.  Back in 2011, Ray did what successful entrepreneurs do: recognized a need and found a way to fill it. What better place to introduce a handcrafted, individually bottled and signed liquor, made from natural ingredients, than San Diego, home of more than 70 craft breweries and an army of treehuggers?

Kill Devil Spirits is the first distillery inside the San Diego city limits since Prohibition. Even though we seem to have fully embraced the craft beer movement, craft distilling is getting a slightly slower start.  But Ray and Luke are doing what they can to help that, too.  They’re part of the San Diego Distilling Guild and are also offering apprenticeships at Kill Devil. Just because you’ve got the idea to start a distillery, there’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears and waiting that goes into starting a distillery.  Helping others navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of the TTB (the government folk that approve labels, what’s in your hooch, all that kind of stuff) not only helps Kill Devil, but benefits the industry as a whole. Unlike the cutthroat world of big booze, craft distillers still have that friendly, enterprising spirit – and Ray is no exception.

Kill Devil_Luke

Luke Oskam, getting the shiny new still ready to go!

Right now, Kill Devil makes Rx Vodka and Ugly California Moonshine, though gin (Ray’s favorite) and rum (Luke’s favorite) aren’t too far into the future. They’re also going to grow their own botanicals for the gin, though one of the casualties of last week’s heat wave was their mint.  Oops! I asked where the name “Ugly” and “Rx” came from, if an “ugly prescription” is what you give someone if their date isn’t cute so they can drink til they are – which earned me a laugh.  Ray said, “I’ve never thought of it that way – but it works!” Their standard answer to, “Why Ugly?” is “Why the hell not?” and I think that works, too.

The local mixologist community has been very receptive to Kill Devil’s spirits. Getting craft liquor into the glasses of consumers isn’t as easy as you might think. Distributors need to pick it up, then bar managers need to order it, then the mixologist needs to use it – all dominos that Ray has been able to successfully line up. A local place called the Southpaw Social Club features Ugly Moonshine at the top of their drink menu in a cocktail called the Moonshiner’s Daughter (muddled jalapenos? Yes, please!). If you’re in San Diego, I’d suggest stopping by!  (Check out the full list of Kill Devil’s current retailers here).

The great thing about being a boutique distillery is their flexibility to try new things. Guys like Ray and Luke don’t quit day jobs and sell their cars for the sheer love of ordering take-out and spending all their free time in a warehouse.  They do it because they love to try new things – something a distillery 10x their size is a little harder pressed to do. Honestly, when your pay is sometimes your R&D project (gin, anyone?), you’ve gotta love what you do.  And spending even a little time with these guys, it’s very apparent they love what they do.  If you’re in San Diego, go online and schedule a tour and tasting with Kill Devil Spirit Co. and tell them that LikeYourLiquor sent you (and make sure to ask Luke about being an Aries and having an unnatural love of mopping!). Cheers!

Have a taste, a tour and a t-shirt!

Have a taste, a tour and a t-shirt!

7 Sips – Strange cocktail ingredients

So, you’ve taken my advice and decided to tip your toe into the craft liquor end of the pool.  Good for you!  To get started, you’ve Yelped a local establishment that serves cocktails and craft liquor. Don’t forget, a craft cocktail isn’t necessarily made with a craft liquor, so make sure to read the menu and call for a craft liquor instead, if they have it.  The easiest way to is to ask your bartender what they’d suggest that’s craft. If you nor your bartender are familiar with what’s craft behind the bar, shoot me a tweet or a pic on Instagram – I might be able to help! And really – the guy or girl behind the bar is an expert – trust their judgment, and I’m sure you’ll end up with a tasty libation!

In a cocktail, the variance in flavor across the bourbon or rye spectrum could change the the taste of the cocktail a bit. I’d say more so for rum. The craft rums I’ve had are quite a bit different than the ones with pirates and legendary sea monsters.  And vodka – a craft vodka is likely to improve your drink, not detract.  So what strange cocktail ingredients might be in your glass with your liquor?  Let’s find out!

1. Malört – If you’re in the Windy City, check out Malört.  What is it, you say? It’s originally a Swedish concoction, its main ingredient is wormwood (yes, the same stuff as absinthe). Supposedly a good folk remedy for indigestion: but you first need to be able to drink it. Jeppson’s Malört can be found in Chicago bars, where the bartenders think of it as a mascot. And since it’s Chicago, their mascot isn’t going to be something sweet like St. Germain – oh no, it’s going to be punch-you-in-the-face bitter.  Give it a try – who knows, maybe you’re the 1 in 49 that Jeppson’s says will like it.  Or maybe not.

Photo by Longshots Photography

Photo by Longshots Photography

2. Bitters – Let’s stick with the bitter theme for a second and go to bitters.  Originally another “cure-all” or digestive, bitters are herbs and other plants in a high-proof alcohol base.  There are a ton of flavors, with new ones popping up every day. Angostura is the one that is probably the most commonly known, that imparts a bit of a red color to your drink and, to me, has a bit of a cinnamon flavor. Think of bitters as seasoning for your drink, like a dash of Worchestershire (what the hell is in that, anyway?!). There are fruit based bitters (orange, grapefruit), veggies, flowers and coffee, to name a few.  It’s just a matter of what cocktail you’re mixing up, but I’ve found that most of them are better with a dash of bitters. Say you buy a bottle of whiskey that’s just so-so, and you want a drink – but not necessarily a cocktail. I’ve found a dash of orange bitters (and a squeeze of a fresh orange, if you have one) makes any whiskey much more palatable. No shaker, no fancy equipment – a glass, an ice cube or 2 and you’re off!

3. Cynar – Another one on the bitter side of things, let me introduce you to Cynar, an Italian digestive made from artichokes. I can say I’ve seen it at my local store, but haven’t been brave enough to buy a whole  bottle yet.  I love artichokes, in a variety of ways, but bitter isn’t my strong suit when it comes to cocktails. It’s often paired with lemon, just like fresh artichokes. Because of the chemical compound cynarin, that is believed to make things taste sweet (try drinking a glass of plain water after eating fresh artichokes, it works!), it’s supposedly an interesting addition to cocktails. Some mixologists suggest substituting it for Campari, another super bitter liqueur, in a Negroni or Boulevardier.

4. Fernet Branca – who knew the Italians were so bitter? Say hello to my little friend, Fernet Branca. Fernet is a type of amaro, a bitter aromatic spirit. It’s another digestive, but honestly, it’s tough to drink straight, no matter what powers it supposedly provides.  I’ve tried the mint-flavored version (since that’s what my friendly mixologist at Craft & Commerce was about to put in my drink, I asked to try it).  I’ll say it tasted like a high octane version of Scope, a bit herbal at first, but mostly just minty after. Fernet Branca is named for the lady that originally invented it, Maria Scala – who married a Branca and the rest is (bitter) history.

5. Bénédictine -Leaving the bitter Italians behind, let’s check out the French. Another liqueur that comes to us from the annals of time, Bénédictine was invented by a guy named Alexandre Le Grand in 19th century France. While the story goes that monks in Normandy made it, apparently Le Grand made that story up, to increase his sales. Regardless of its slightly shady start , the recipe for Bénédictine is closely guarded to this day: it’s purported that only 3 people know the recipe at any given time (is  one of them Duke from Bush’s baked beans? Ok, now I’m amusing myself).The liqueur has a distinctive herbal taste, and is also mixed with brandy (sold as B&B) to cut some of the sweet of Bénédictine. It’s an interesting taste, though not something I’d go out of my way to buy again. The bottle is easily recognizable – it has an elaborate red seal on the front, along with “DOM” (Deo Optimo Maximo – “To god, most good, most great”) on the label.

6. Grenadine – Basically the French word for pomegranate (grenade), grenadine is a syrup made from pomegranates. A little sweet, a little tart, grenadine is usually the bright red color you see floating on top of a drink like a Tequila Sunrise or more commonly, a Shirley Temple.

7. Egg whites – On craft cocktail menus, I’m seeing more and more drinks made with egg white.  The cocktails are shaken, which makes the egg white foam a bit and thickens the feel of the drink on your tongue.  Personally, I’m not super fond of eggs anyway, but it does make for an interesting texture.

See, those weren’t so strange after all. Ok, maybe they were.  I know when I first came across them, I certainly thought they were odd, so I wanted to share with you!  What are the strangest things you’ve come across in your favorite bars or stores? Leave a comment and let’s chat!  For more interesting craft cocktail hacks, check out Craft Cocktails at Home: Offbeat Techniques, Contemporary Crowd-Pleasers, and Classics Hacked with Science. Cheers!

Lose the harsh! You gotta get Gubba. Gubba Rum, that is!

When Steve Gubb and his wife went to St. Martin on a vacation, who knew the (eventual) end result would be making his own rum?  Fortunately for the American drinking public, that’s exactly what happened.

Yvonne Davis, owner of Antoine’s in NOLA, with Steve Gubb

When Steve came home from his tropical trip, his first thought was to import some of the rum he’d found in St. Martin.  It was
unlike anything he’d tasted in the States, which seemed to present a great opportunity.  But, not only were the taxes prohibitive, Steve found that the rum wasn’t exactly as organic as it may have seemed.  Since importing the rum wasn’t an option – creating his own, from completely organic ingredients, turned out to be an even better way to go.  And Gubba Rum was born!

“We’re not writing the Bible, it’s booze! We’re here to have fun!” Steve described himself as a frustrated comedian – a great skill for the face of Gubba Rum.  Without the millions of dollars in marketing that the big labels spend, tasting events are the bread and butter of craft distillers. The ability to walk into a room full of strangers  and walk out with friends (or at least new customers) is definitely enhanced with a bit of humor. Steve said that his favorite part is the people that he meets and their reaction when they taste his rum.

Gubba Silver and Gold rums are made from pure cane sugar, and infused with natural ingredients.  And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, by Wayne Curtis, explains that for many years, molasses was thrown into the ocean, as a by-product of making pure cane sugar.  While we use molasses on waffles and other ways, it makes sense that a silky smooth rum like Gubba would come directly from the pure sugar cane juice, and not a by-product. Gubba Silver is infused with coconut, while Gold is infused with vanilla.  Neither is an additive nor extract, just the real thing. You can taste it – and once you do, you won’t call this rum “flavored”.  Six months spent infusing in stainless tanks imparts the perfect flavor of these ingredients (check out my review  here).

Gubba Rum won bronze medals in 2014 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a mere 6 months after opening their doors.  In blind taste tests against multi-year-aged rums and rums from big labels, he often comes out on top.  “It’s about making a spirit with a better taste,” Gubb explained.  It’s not about having a fancy bottle or a big marketing campaign – it’s the taste of the juice in the bottle. I would definitely agree – I’ve had some spirits that have come in pretty hand-painted bottles and skull-shaped bottles (ok, I kept that one and filled it with something better). But guess what? None of that made what was inside taste any better.  You’ve got to start with a good product, which Steve Gubb has successfully managed to do!

Currently, Gubba Rum is available in Massachusetts, at a variety of restaurants and retail stores. They are currently planning to be available this summer in Southern Florida, Rhode Island and Ogunquit,Maine He’ll also be at Tales of the Cocktail again this year with the Gubba Snack Stand at the Hotel Monteleone.  If you’re in NOLA, stop by and try a taste of Gubba Rum- and tell Steve LikeYourLiquor sent you!

Gubba Rum Ad


Hangovers: the man, the myth, the legend

It’s quite possible that I’m writing this from a place of recently acquired wisdom.  OK, so it’s more than just quite possible.  A very long week with short sleep, a killer Pilates class in a room much hotter than normal, a minimal dinner of salad and my newest friend, gin.  Now, gin and I have been introduced before, and I’ve found I rather like it in certain circumstances.  Whiskey will always be my go-to drink, but gin has its place.  After doing an hour of Pilates in a room that felt like it was on the surface of the sun, I thought a cool, refreshing gin cocktail was just the ticket.  I’d done some experiments with various flavors before, and since I couldn’t decide, I busted out all the variations to see what struck my fancy.  I also didn’t realize that Distillery No. 209’s gin is 92 proof.   Not that that really has much to do with anything I’d guess, since the whiskies I drink typically start at 92. But, considering all the factors involved, I’m sure that didn’t help.

Armed with lavender (both bitters and an infusion), grenadine, simple syrup, Chambord and fresh limes, I set off down the path to my current state.  I was hanging out with my neighbor, so we were chatting and watching TV, so I likely drank a bit more quickly (and with less water breaks) than normal.  Cocktail #1 was lavender – which was pretty good. #2 was Chambord and lime – which was OK. #3 was grenadine and lime (hey, they’re expensive these days, so I wanted to make sure I used it once I cut it!) – that was interesting, but not anything I’d make again.  Off I went home, to watch a bit of TV and oh look! Tonic water.  Staring at the already-cut lime, I opted for a gin & tonic.  That was probably the final straw. I will spare you the gory details, (I had to send a text this morning that said it was the gin that texted, not me – HA!), but that’s how we arrived at this current state of hangover/less-than -fresh-as-a-daisy.  Which sucks, since it’s finally not 100 degrees outside, but I have little desire to go into the blinding light. But lucky for you, it does help me write this post and so hopefully you’ll learn a bit for your next night out.

Before you start drinking:

Hydration is key.  If you start out behind, you’re totally screwed later.  The tiny creatures with big hammers inside your skull? That’s dehydration talking, plain and simple.  A handful of aspirin isn’t going to help, unless it’s chased with a ton of water.  Coconut water is also a great choice.  I happen to like the taste no matter what the temperature, but if you plan ahead and put it in the fridge, a cold, refreshing, hydrating beverage will await you.  Just what your brain ordered and will thank you for by no longer attempting to leave your head via your ears.

Food! Eat a good meal before you start.  (ie, not just salad).  One thing to note though – give yourself a little time to digest.  The alcohol pretty much stops digestion and that can come back to bite you later. (that’s a literal statement, not a figurative one). The 2am tacos (or cheeseburgers or whatever) – not a completely horrible idea, but sometimes not the best.  The stuff you’re drinking has calories – and stuffing another 500-1000 into your mouth and stumbling to bed isn’t exactly helpful.

While you’re sucking down drinks:

Water. Yep, you’re sensing a theme, aren’t you.  Most recommendations I’ve seen are 1 glass of water per drink.  That’s a nice thought, but honestly, I’ve never seen anyone do it, including yours truly. But if you’re Hangovers preventednot having water in between drinks, at least try to pace yourself.  It takes a minute for the alcohol to hit your bloodstream, but once it does, it’s hanging around for awhile.  So if you drink too quickly, it may be a short night.


You’ve made it home. And please, don’t imbibe and drive – while Uber has come up short on background checks recently, it seems, there are cabs, public transportation, a friend that needs some cash so will drive your drunk ass around all night – whatever that is, do it.  No driving.

Before you fall into bed (or onto the couch), do yourself a favor and finally have some water. You can try a couple aspirin now – I’ve found that can be helpful. Keep that water by your side, you’re going to want it.

Anyone get the license plate of that truck!?

And before you know it, it’s morning (or perhaps early afternoon, who’s to say). If you did your prep, hopefully you’re a reasonably fresh daisy.  For those of you (and me) that didn’t, it’s time to assess and repair the damage.  Hydration is your BFF right now. Remember earlier when I said that alcohol was working its way around your body and it took time to really hit?  Well, it also takes time to be flushed completely out. I’ve read suggestions on saunas or hot showers, to help that process along.  If you can handle it, go for it.  Personally the heat is a little too much for me, so I tend to skip that.

Greasy food!  For me, that’s a go-to meal. Burgers, huevos rancheros, whatever I can get near.  Now, if your stomach is unhappy with you or you don’t normally eat that way, now is likely not the time to start. Though eggs have amino acids in them that will help, if you can’t tolerate them on a good day – this isn’t even a so-so day, so let’s not tempt fate.

“Hair of the dog” – leave it to the Norwegians to come up with a catchy phrase that translates to “push your hangover off til later and make it 10x worse”.  Yes, in the short term you’ll feel a bit better.  And if you don’t drink 15 Bloody Marys or mimosas, you might even survive it.  But as a rule – leave the hair on the dog and leave drinking more, as a “cure” for already drinking too much, to frat boys.

Coffee might seem like a good idea (there’s caffeine in Excedrin, so that must fix headaches, right?). But it’s another dehydrator.  Leave the latte til later. You might also skip your morning OJ – the acid might be hard on your stomach right about now.

hangovers_ecardTime is the only thing you can’t change or hurry along. Drinking water, eating something that works for you: you need to do those things, and also give your body a minute to regroup.  Grab a book (if you need a recommendation, check out my friends at For the Love of Books and Alcohol  but maybe skip the suggested drinks for now!) or grab the remote.  Your body will thank you for it!


How the heck do you make bourbon?? – Wyoming Whiskey

Wyoming is known for its wide open spaces and Yellowstone National Park.  But now, it has something new to boast: Wyoming Whiskey, its first and only distillery.

When Brad and Kate Mead approached David Defazio about their idea to make bourbon, he felt like he’d been called in to the principal’s office, as they looked at him solemnly. When they said they wanted to make bourbon, David’s first thought was, “How the heck do you make bourbon?!”.  But then his investigative lawyer side kicked in, and he was off to Kentucky.  What better place to start than the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and the birthplace of bourbon? [Read more…]

Jersey Artisan Distilling – Jersey’s first distillery since Prohibition!

What’s the most common rum drink you know?  I’m going to guess the ubiquitous, rum & Coke.  Basically, you’re hiding the rum in a syrupy soda because the rum by itself isn’t that great.  But guess what? Jersey Artisan Distilling Busted Barrel rum IS that good – you don’t need to hide it with other ingredients!

Meet Krista Haley, co-founder of Jersey Artisan Distilling, the first distillery in New Jersey since Prohibition.  Not only does Krista make great rum with her partner, Brant Braue, but she’s also helped to shape New Jersey law to be more favorable to craft distilling.  Did I mention she’s also an attorney?  Talk about multi-talented! 

Brant and Krista - and of course, Busted Barrel Rum!

Brant and Krista – and of course, Busted Barrel Rum!

Krista was introduced to rum by her island-born field hockey teammates in college. Real rum, not the stuff most people think of when they hear the word. Krista said that sometimes people have a “bad vacation experience” – a bit of overindulging in some sweet concoction with an umbrella – that turns them off of rum.  But craft rum isn’t like the stuff made by the pirate guy nor the legendary sea monster.

The concept of JAD started over a chance conversation: an engineer and an attorney walk into a bar… No, that’s not the beginning of a bad joke, it’s the beginning of the story behind JAD!  Krista and Brant were looking for the next challenge in their professional lives, and I’d say they found it.  While it’s a great thing to see your product on the menu at a bar or restaurant, it can be a long road to get there.  Sleeping on a cot in the distillery sometimes?  Check.  Driving around looking for a bottle of seltzer water for an event while talking to yours truly?  Check.  But the satisfaction is priceless and that’s what keeps Krista and Brant going. 

Less than 10% of craft distillers currently make rum, which puts JAD in a good spot.  Start-up costs for a micro-distillery can be huge, with permits and other government fees making it even more difficult.  Thanks to Krista and her legislative efforts, the permitting costs have gone from $12,500 to a mere $938 in New Jersey.  New Jersey likes their craft beer and now they get a chance to try their first craft spirits since Prohibition.  With one obstacle tackled, on to making tasty rum!

We aren’t doing anything different, just better.” That’s the tagline from JAD’s site. They’re not just making rum – they’re making good rum. The process of distilling produces three parts: heads, tails and hearts (check out Liquor 101 and subscribe to get my free e-guide to learn more!).  When you “cut” distilled spirits, you separate the hearts from the heads and tails (the stuff you don’t want to drink). Being precise about how and when you cut ensures your spirits are consistent from batch to batch and that you’re getting the best tasting part. Krista describes her process as “psychotically conscious”: she knows exactly when to make the cut – when it stops tasting like “banana taffy”! 

Krista’s legislative efforts benefit more than just their distillery, as they partner with the local community. JAD only uses natural ingredients: “If I can’t pronounce it, it doesn’t go into our products.”  They are working with local farmers to grow sweet corn and juniper berries, for future vodka and gin products.  They partner with local restaurants, to host events and of course, to have Busted Barrel rums on the back bar.


Busted Barrel Silver and Dark rums are currently available in a wide variety of locations throughout New Jersey, with efforts to expand into Massachusetts, DC, Maryland, New York and Connecticut in the works.  If you’re nearby, check out the events where you can try Busted Barrel for yourself – and tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you!


Never a dull moment – Renee Cimino, Tuthilltown Spirits

When Renee took the tour at Tuthilltown Spirits, she was simply there to check out where the whiskey she’d tried was made. What she found was a lot more than a tasting and a tour! She found a great job that uses her past experience as a chef, bartender and stone mason and lets her indulge not only her passion for learning new things, but to also make whiskey! Talk about hitting the trifecta!

I got a chance to speak with Renee on her five month anniversary of being a distiller at Tuthilltown Spirits. Her enthusiasm and dedication to her new craft are very apparent, after talking to her for just a few minutes. Initially, she’d only applied for a bottling position, but the folks at Tuthilltown recognized something in Renee that led them to offer her a position as a distiller. She accepted and hasn’t looked back.

Renee Cimino, Distiller

Renee Cimino, Distiller

“There’s never a dull moment – that’s one of the things I love about Tuthilltown,” Renee answered when I asked her about the best part of her job. She’s had to learn the distilling process from beginning to end. And thanks to the great team that she works with, learning has been a pleasure. There’s always something to do, from the physical tasks of unloading a truck, to understanding what goes into the Hudson whiskies. She excels at being organized and efficient, or being a “neurotic perfectionist” as she described it. Her job allows her to bring all her talents to a job she loves.

I asked Renee for a tip she’d give to a whiskey newbie. I’ve met people that are hesitant to try something they perceive as too strong, or they don’t think will taste good. Renee suggested taking a tour of your local craft distillery, to see how the process works. You’ll likely get a chance to try the spirits that the distillery makes, with someone guiding you through the process. Great advice!

Tuthilltown Spirits is about 75 miles outside of New York City, in the small town of Gardiner. Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee started Tuthilltown in 2003, by converting one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery. Less than 3 years later, they produced their first batch of vodka made from scraps they got from the local apple slicing plant. Today, they use grains grown on a farm less than 10 miles from the distillery: talk about true “grain to glass”! When people ask Renee what she does in such a small town, she says with pride, “I make great whiskey, of course!”.

Check out Tuthilltown Spirit’s full line of products here. I’ve had the pleasure of trying most of the Tuthilltown spirits – including their Half Moon Gin – all of them are fantastic! I also have a samples from their Basement Bitters series that are in development, so stay tuned here for a full review and cocktail recipe suggestions. Currently, Bitter Frost is available to purchase online or in their store. And of course, if you’re in the area, make sure to stop in for a tour – say hi to Renee and tell them that LikeYourLiquor sent you!

The Noble Experiment NYC

Who would guess that a rum-running Prohibition-age gangster would inspire someone to start making rum in Brooklyn nearly 100 years later?  Meet Bridget C. Firtle, founder and owner of The Noble Experiment NYC.  Her rum, Owney’s, is named after Owen Madden, a bit of an infamous character in 1920’s New York.  But Bridget is far from infamous – in fact, she’s working toward a rum empire of her own, sans gangsters of course!

The Noble Experiment founder

I was able to catch up with Bridget for the 2nd post in my series on female distillers for Women’s History Month.  (you can read the first here)  Bridget’s currently a one-woman show – early on, she’d put bottles of rum in her bag and pound the pavement, getting the word out on Owney’s.  Let’s find out how it all started:

LYL: When you left the hedge fund and started TNE, tell me about the day you decided to take the plunge.

BCF: I had been envisioning TNE and bringing rum distilling back to New York for years before I made the leap.  It really began as a fantasy while I was doing research and investing in the alcoholic beverage industry for the hedge fund.  Over the course of the first 6 months of 2011, that vision kept getting louder and louder inside my head and I couldn’t seem to ignore it.  One day in June of 2011, I was watching a TED talk about venture capital given by a professor at the Stanford Business School.  He was expressing to the students that they wouldn’t have the credentials or experience to enter a venture capital firm without having run their own business first.  It was so motivating to hear him speak about encouraging his students to take risk and not be afraid to fail.  I started writing a business plan how to execute my vision that day.  I spent to rest of 2011 figuring out funding and left the hedge fund the day before Christmas Eve 2011.  That day was extremely liberating and exciting like so many days since.  It’s indescribable to be in control of your own destiny and truly know what you were meant to do.

LY: I think it’s awesome that you made your rum – and went door to door, hustling

 your hooch.  Not every day was a “yes, I’ll buy it!” day – what keeps you going?

 BCF: There are lots of things internally and externally that keep me going.  I think I am inherently a very driven, motivated and disciplined individual.  I am also a risk-taker (that happens to be all-in!).  Most importantly, I feel very strongly about my love of rum and very proud of Owney’s which is really awesome to get to share with the world.  From an external standpoint, it’s the consumers.  It’s an unbelievable feeling to receive tweets/instagram pics/emails from strangers telling me how much they love Owney’s.  I have started printing these things out and pinning them up in my office.  They are truly priceless and I am so grateful for each and every acknowledgement. 

On the days when things are bad, I talk to myself.  Sometimes I stare at the ceiling and talk to myself.  Lots of times I listen to rap really loud and run fast at the gym and talk to myself.  Sometimes it feels like someone has you up against the ropes and is just working you with body shots.  So you tell yourself to get up.  You look for one little ounce of strength and energy and you capitalize on it and you yell at yourself to keep your head up and keep swinging.  So yelling at myself is the answer on those days.  The best part of those days is you forget how bad they can be because the next day is undoubtedly better.  And let’s face it, the pleasure would never be as good without the pain. 

LYL: What do you think the advantages are of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? Do you think being Bridget instead of Bob helps to sell your product?

BCF: I think in my case, it sets me apart and acts as a point of differentiation for my company and product just like the ingredients or distillation technique.  I really don’t believe the consumer of my product cares if I am a man or a woman.  They care about good juice.  They also care about authenticity and transparency.  I like to keep things real and normal and not ‘sell’ anyone on anything – including being a woman.  I happened to be born a woman so it is hard to answer questions that involve being a woman vs being a man since I have never been a man.  I would imagine it is just as hard for both sexes to construct a distillery, make good booze and build a brand.

LYL: Like any product made from scratch by a human, distilling is as much art as it science. Bridget taught herself the science – visiting distillers from New York to Kentucky, and reading everything she could lay her hands on.  But the  art – that intangible something that separates a good product from a great one. How did you learn the art?TNE_Distillery

BCF: The art was a combination of two main things.  First off, it was drinking lots of rum.  By doing so, I was able to smell and taste what I liked and disliked.  When I liked a certain style, I would then try to find out everything I could about the inner-workings/making of that particular product.  By understanding what flavor profiles resulted from certain techniques, I was able to shape my own unique style.  Once I understood that concept, I took it to the distillery and played.  Lots of the art is learning by doing.  Every day builds on itself and my art is ever-evolving.

LYL: Is an aged rum or maybe whiskey in your future plans once Owney’s is, well, holding its own?

BCF: Yes, most definitely.  Hopefully, I will have the chance to lay down a number of barrels in 2014 that will contribute to our aged rum program.  No whiskey or other spirits on the horizon.  Just rum.  I love rum.  We want to be New York’s rum distillery with a number of varietals (eventually!).

Make sure if you’re in New York that you stop by The Noble Experiment for a tour and tasting – tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you!

The Keeper – Troy & Sons whiskeys

Not only does Troy Ball distill the “Keeper” kind of white whiskey, but she is a keeper.  Mother to three boys, two with special needs, she took care of her family until the boys were older and they qualified for assistance with their care.  Able to start something outside the home for herself, Troy wondered that would be.

In 2008, that day came.

After moving her family to North Carolina for health reasons, one of her new neighbors gave her a jar of his ‘shine – the good kind you keep, not what you sell down the road.  Troy thought the moonshine should have a place in the American beverage world, and that’s what she set out to do.

Welcome to LikeYourLiquor’s three part series about women in craft distilling, to celebrate Women’s History Month.  Meet Troy Ball of Asheville Distilling Co. I was able to catch up with Troy recently, to dig a little deeper into the story behind her moonshine.

LYL:  I admire your spirit (pun intended!), that you’re making what the locals like – you’re not trying to take the world by storm or drown the country in a bad product.  What struggles did you have starting off, that you alluded to on your site? Any other advantages to being a woman in a man’s world, other, than well, being a woman? 

TB: Starting out everyone thought I was crazy and I only had $20,000.  Those are two big hurdles.  My family and friends thought that I was crazy to go into the backwoods to learn how to make moonshine or white whisky, and when I told my husband that I needed to build a still he thought I had really lost it.  

With little money and no emotional support from my family, I had to dare to follow my intuition which was telling me that fine white whiskey was not yet on the market and this spirit would make beautiful cocktails.  I think women’s intuition played a big part in my decision making.  I was not afraid to listen to that voice in my heart and when it came to educating myself on the craft, it was very easy for me to switch hats constantly to build the business. And certainly the men in this world were more than happy to teach me what they knew once they realized I was serious. 

Troy Ball with her Platinum Whiskey

Troy Ball with her Platinum Whiskey

LYL: You mentioned that, “it takes large sums of money and constant work to spread the word about your products”.  What one thing would you say that you’ve done that has been the most effective (other than spend large sums of money)?

TB: I think we have been very good at getting publicity.  I knew from the beginning that we could not afford an expensive pr company, so I made sure that I story was well told and then I tried to put myself in all the right places for press to find me.  We also began collecting email addresses of visitors to our distillery when we opened.  We send monthly newsletters which are fun and well written.  This helps us to stay in touch with our fans.  (Watch Troy on CBS This Morning).

LYL: What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve ever had in a cocktail? And be honest – if it wasn’t mixed with your Platinum Moonshine, did you want to go home and try it??

TB: By far the strangest ingredient that I have tasted in one of our cocktails is fish sauce.  It was an ingredient that was used in a competition that we held in South Beach.   And believe it or not Zivi’s cocktail won!

“Celebrate your independent spirit with one of ours” is one of the taglines on the Troy & Sons website: I think that’s a clear description of the woman behind the moonshine.

You can try out their Troy & Sons Platinum Moonshine, Oak Reserve or Blonde Whiskey that can be shipped to most states. If you’re in North Carolina, drop by the distillery for a tour and a tasting – tell them LikeYourLiquor sent you!

Troy & Sons products

<3: Valentine's Day ideas, dates or drinks

Welcome to that awesome time of year. We’ve gotten through January, some of us more frozen than others. Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, so we’re due for 6 more weeks of winter. Here are some tips that will hopefully at least get you through Valentine’s Day all warm and toasty, in one way or another! [Read more…]

Weird science, part 2: what do you mean, alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells?

Welcome back to Weird science, part 2. Last time you learned about the wonders of charcoal filtration and something called Ostwald ripening. If you missed it, what are you waiting for? Read it now!  Now that you’re all caught up, on we go… [Read more…]

Weird science: 4 funky facts about the liquor in your glass

Up until you started reading here at LikeYourLiquor, you might not have given too much thought to what’s in your glass. A vague idea of what distilling means, possibly what the ingredients are. But there’s some interesting science stuff going on right under your nose. Welcome to Weird Science, part 1! Check it out: [Read more…]

Ganbei! 8 things you probably don’t know about Chinese New Year

So just as the rest of the world is finally over their hangovers and dreading the arrival of the holiday credit card bills, the world’s largest population is about to kick off their new year’s celebration.  It’s Chinese New Year!  You’re probably saying to yourself, “What’s that have to do with craft liquor?” Well, keep going, intrepid reader, I’m about to enlighten you!

1. The Chinese calendar follows a twelve year cycle (called Earthly Branches), with each year symbolized by an animal that corresponds to the Chinese zodiac.  (Unlike the one you may be familiar with, the Chinese zodiac goes by your birth year, not birth month). 2014, Year of the Horse, is one of the Chinese people’s favorite animals; it is said to symbolize speedy success.  Horses are also considered elegant and confident.  Sounds like an auspicious year, right?  So let’s start it out right – make a Bloody Mary with your favorite craft vodka like Tito’s and a goodly dose of horseradish to start the year off right! 

2. Red and yellow/gold are considered lucky colors in Chinese culture.  It corresponds to fire and symbolizes good fortune and joy.  There’s a Chinese saying, “Yellow generates Yin and Yang,” which implies that yellow is the center of everything.  So have another Bloody Mary (or perhaps Caesar if you like clamato juice)!  Or you can try something like the Red Lotus, which is vodka and lychee, a sweet fruit with a delicate flavor (think pear-like) often found in Chinese cooking. 

3. Hong bao, or red envelopes, are used to give monetary gifts for holidays and special occasions like weddings.  The money should always end in an even number – odd numbers are for funerals.  And don’t give just $4 (cheapskate!) – the word for 4 sounds like the word for death.

4. Speaking of gifts that would be well-received when visiting for Chinese New Year, bring oranges.  The word for tangerine sounds like the word for gold, and the word for clementines sounds like the word for luck.  Who wouldn’t want a bag of gold and luck!? When in doubt, bring citrus.  If all else fails – you can make screwdrivers (boring) or a yummy whiskey sour with bourbon.  Check out’s variation called a Stone Sour, though try Michter’s or Breckenridge’s  bourbon in place of the suggested fowl bourbon.  (pun fully intended, I’ve never been much of a fan)Gung Hay Fat Choy from LikeYourLiquor!

5. Make sure you also avoid the color white – it represents death and mourning.  No white Russians or brandy Alexanders please.   And for the love of all holiday attire, now’s not the time for white pants.  Just sayin’.

6. Confucianism stresses the importance of maintaining a clear head – drinking games are won by the SOBER guy.  Who knew?? (apparently the guy that wrote this book did)

7. Firecrackers are used to ward off evil spirits. How about this firecracker cocktail? I’d try some Papa’s Pilar dark rum or Ballast Point’s barrel-aged Three Sheets in it.  And I know, you may be tempted to go for one of those fireball-flavored whiskeys, but please – have a little self respect.  You know better than to drink something like that! Firecrackers ward OFF evil spirits, not encourage you to suck them down.

8. And the best part?  Chinese New Year is FIFTEEN DAYS LONG.  Many of us have a hard time getting through a single night of that kind of fun – my hat is off to anyone that can do it for two weeks! Oh, and the 15 day thing? The new year celebration is a combination of lunar and solar movements, starting with the first new moon of each calendar year and ending on the full moon.

And you’re probably still wondering about the title: Ganbei is a traditional toast, like Bottoms Up or Cheers!  And 8 is the most auspicious number of all.  Not only does it sound like the words that mean prosper or wealth, the visual of 88 looks like the characters for double joy or double happiness.

 So, Ganbei! Gung Hay Fat Choy!

The dream of craft liquor

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

More than 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, we are still celebrating his life and his iconic speech.  A quarter of a million people showed up that day at the Lincoln Memorial to hear his speech, that we’re still being inspired by today.  It’s not simply the words, though to even say, “I have a dream” is powerful.  It’s the hope that a phrase like that embodies.  Hope for a better day, for everyone. Hope for the American dream.

Today, people from every corner of the nation are pursuing their dreams.  Some do it through words, by teaching those who don’t know.  Some do it through technology, by creating new gadgets that may help to save our dwindling resources. Others are trying to help such a hurried nation relax and reboot – by making great craft liquor. 

These American craft distillers have heard the whisper in their hearts. They’ve heard that voice that says, “This is what I’m meant to do”. They, too, have a dream and they’ve followed it.  Some to the cities, some to the farm, some to the mountains.

Take Troy Ball, of Troy & Sons (Asheville Distilling).  After raising three sons, two of which have special needs, Troy wanted to do something outside the home for herself. Raised in the South on stories of the moonshine you keep home and don’t “sell down the road”, she wanted to learn more. A trip to meet her first moonshiner and she was sold! Not simply on the moonshine, but also on the people that make it.  Read more of how they put their hearts (and Hearts!) into their Platinum Moonshine here

Tuthilltown Spirits takes their “grain to glass” belief very seriously, sourcing their grain and apples within less than ten miles from their distillery.  New York’s first bourbon, Hudson Baby Bourbon, is distilled from 100% New York corn.  Read about the diverse team that makes a fine selection of spirits here.

In Yiddish, Koval means “black sheep” or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.  I’d say that KOVAL Distillery has definitely achieved that, making some truly unique spirits: from whiskey that’s made from 100% millet (which also makes it gluten-free – yay!), to Chrysanthemum & Honey liqueur.  KOVAL’s founders, Drs. Robert and Sonat Birnecker, were able to follow their dreams together. Robert’s love of traditional crafts and the pride of a small family business, along with Sonat’s desire to return to Chicago after a decade in the international education community resulted in Chicago’s first distillery since the mid-1800’s. Read more about their inspiration behind the KOVAL name here

Cheers to those that follow their dreams, wherever they may lead!


Don’t let cenosillicaphobia get you!

I know 2014 has already begun, with what I’m sure is a plethora of well-meaning, earnestly-conceived resolutions.  Lose weight, quit smoking, eat more green things (thanks to Colorado, you can smoke ’em if ya got ’em).  What I heard was, “I’m pretty sure I’m swearing off of fun for awhile and it probably won’t last”.  So, when you’re ready to come back to the fold, I’m here for you. And the one thing I can help you with in 2014 is keeping you from cenosillicaphobia: the fear of an empty glass.  [Read more…]

Do it the right way

“Do you like being lied to?” No hands went up. “Are you sure?” This is how Greg Koch, CEO & Founder of Stone Brewing Company, opened his talk about innovation this morning. He went on to talk about the moment, at a dive bar in LA back in the late ’80s, when he realized that he’d been lied to: that the fizzy, yellow stuff couldn’t be considered beer because he’d finally tasted something real (and he’s a Metallica fan, who knew?!).

Greg 5Greg went on to talk about starting Stone, the months of more red in the ledger than black. But you know what? He didn’t sell out – he didn’t decide to just make something that fit the mold, just to make money. He stuck with what he knew was the right way for him. To make a great tasting beer. And he was right – Stone Brewing is the 10th largest craft brewery in the nation, the only craft brewery with consistent, double-digit growth every single year since they opened.

When the only distributor in San Diego that had initially agreed to add Stone to their book eventually called, after months of putting them off, and politely declined, how did he keep going? I asked him how he got through those months of “bleeding money”, as he put it. He simply said, “White knuckles”. No magic wand, no fairy godmother – just good old-fashioned determination. The stuff entrepreneurs are made of, whether they brew beer or distill spirits.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait – isn’t this a craft liquor site? What’s Stone got to do with it?” Greg not only successfully brews a damn good beer (with no plans to get into distilling – sigh), I think his story is a great example of doing what you love, and sticking to what you know is right. Which is the story of craft liquor – people that pour their hearts and souls into these spirits, staying true to what they love.

For the record, when he’s not drinking beer (maybe 2 out of 100 times), Greg enjoys a single malt Scotch – I think he just hasn’t met the right craft liquor yet.

Greg 1

5 holiday gift ideas for the craft spirits lover on your list!

In case giving  someone a bottle of craft spirits isn’t quite enough, check this stuff out.  (Feel free to mail me any of this stuff you’d like to!) Happy gifting!



Top 4 ways to give craft liquor for the holidays

It’s that time of year again, with the holiday party season in full swing.  Everyone has likely been to a party where the bar features that bottle of rum with the pirate on it, or knows someone who fancies themselves a whiskey connoisseur.  So, why not try something new this time?  Craft liquor can be the hit of any party – here’s how:

BYOB and be the hit of the party

The type of party will tell you the type of bottle to pick up.  Cocktails?  Grab a bottle of Ballast Point’s Barrel Aged Three Sheets Rum or Dogfish Head’s Brown Honey Rum.  Save the pirates for the Caribbean! Dinner? Take dessert in the form of a super- smooth bourbon like Angel’s Envy.

As a gift

Hopefully you have some idea of your intended recipient’s favorite bottle. If he (or hopefully she!) is a Scotch drinker, while you can only get Scotch from Scotland, there are other craft spirits that may fit the bill.  Rye is making a comeback, so there are a few to choose from. It has a bit of bite, rather than say a smoother bourbon, which could be more up the alley of your Scotch drinking friend.  Try Corsair’s Ryemageddon or Templeton Rye.

Pick a simple drink recipe, take it alongHoliday-Cocktails-2012-Holiday-Rum-Punch

To me, the majority of the craft liquors I’ve tried are so good you don’t want to mix them, but not everyone likes neat or on the rocks.  Pick a 2 (or at most, )3 ingredient recipe – just add glasses (and maybe ice) for an instant cocktail hit!  Maybe try a Whiskey Ginger.

Host your own tasting

A small group of friends, some food to nibble on, and a couple bottles of craft liquor – all you need for your own tasting event! Take your  time – this isn’t about doing shots!  I’d also suggest making sure you have the right glassware – I’ll cover that in the next post, but for now, I’ll say that I was skeptical, too.  How could a glass make that much of a difference?  But trust me – it does!

Stay tuned for my next post – more on doing your own tastings, your choice of glassware – I’m also working on lining up a guest blogger or two.

And please make sure that whatever you choose, you and your guests celebrate responsibly!!


Nooze from around town – Oct. 1, 2013

What your first date drink says about you

New law for California distilleries – tasting rooms planned!

American single-malt whiskies serve noticeprohibit_newspaper 2a

Nooze from around town – September 22, 2013

Bitters: do you know where they came from?

7 things you should know about bourbon

Lincoln Henderson: a life in whiskey

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Nooze from around town – September 14, 2013

Craft brewers explore a spirited new frontier

Lessons from a rogue whiskey distiller

A craft distillery worthy of the word “craft”


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