How I rate liquor

Ever go to the a liquor store and wonder what to buy?  Maybe you’d like to buy something new, but your budget can only take one new bottle…and what if it’s something you don’t like? Maybe you’re missing out on something completely fantastic, so let me help!  I can give you all the distilleries in the country to search, but it’s always helpful to have an opinion.  I’ll show you mine, if you…..promise to leave a comment.

Taste: Everyone wants something that tastes “good”.  But good is very subjective.  I recently read an article that talked about every time you taste a spirit, it’s almost like the first time, every time.  The weather, the time of day, the environment, the glassware – YOU – are all different than the last time you had it, even if it was yesterday. I’m going to give you an overall taste profile, with anything specific I pick up. But still no pandas.

Smell (or nose, for those of you in the know-s): Simply put, if it burns when you smell it, it may not taste that much better.  Smell is a big component of taste – taking a whiff OF a spirit first can, and does, affect the way it tastes. Some actually will taste better than the initial sniff.  Don’t open a bottle and immediately go all Hoover on it, trying to smell it.  And even if you don’t have glassware like this, don’t despair.  While you will likely pick up different things in a nosing glass, it’s not essential.  Just no bottle sniffing.

Color: I’ll note the color if applicable, but depending on the style, it’s not always an indicator of drink-ability. Irish whiskeys can be more “pale” in comparison to their American counterparts, but that makes them no less tasty, just different. Some of distillers actually add coloring to their whiskey, to make it darker.  Personally, I try not to eat food with additives – why would I drink a whiskey with one?

Finish: Ever notice that some things linger on your  tongue, while some don’t?  Hot sauce on Mexican food can remind you long after the tacos are gone, just how hot it was.  Wasabi on your sushi might make your eyes water immediately, but is gone almost as quickly.  That’s the best way I can describe finish.  With spirits, there’s also the possibility you’ll pick up a flavor that wasn’t noticeable in your first sip.  I tried a white whiskey that had the distinctive finish of Raisinettes.  No, really.  It started more like tequila, smell and all – but the finish was chocolate covered raisins. You may also find the 2nd sip tastes a bit different, as well.  You may have noticed when you were looking at the color, that your spirits coated the inside of the glass a bit if you swirled it around. If you’re a wino, excuse me, a wine drinker, you’ll probably know the term legs.  That’s what they call the bits that stick to the side of the glass.  Like wine, not all spirits do that.  If you notice it on your glass, it will be the same for your tongue.And check out what the folks at NPR reported on what your physical location has to do with the way whiskey tastes.

Other miscellaneous factors: I’ll try to include the ABV, average price point and anything else that seems helpful.  Sustainability is something I’ll also note, as it’s generally one of the main components of being a craft spirit.  While I won’t use these factors in the rating, it may be a factor in your purchase, so I’d like to give you as much info as I have available.  I’ll also tell you if a spirit was provided to me as a sample, if I tried it at an event, or if I purchased it myself. The last category is not necessarily an indicator of preference, but more of availability. Feel free to chime in on the comments if I missed something or you’d like to have a friendly debate.

On the topic of availability, don’t forget the awesomely complex laws that govern adult beverages in the US.  Not only is there the three tier system (if I distill it, I can’t currently sell it to you directly, but have to use a distributor to get it into stores and bars), but there are also additional state-by-state rules.  Some of the more interesting here in California include, “May a habitual drunkard or an obviously intoxicated person be sold alcoholic beverages?” and “How must spigot markers be placed for draught beer be placed?”.  (the answer to that is they should be attached to the spigot, faucet or outlet. Ya don’t say? I thought maybe on the ground next to the keg might be helpful). So while I’ll review and suggest craft liquor from many states, I’ll just say sorry in advance, you might simply not be able to get your hands on it. Yet. There are some strides being made in legislation every year, so there’s always hope (CA can finally sample spirits like they can for beer and wine, but still no cash-n-carry). Who knows – with the country hyper-focused on legalizing pot (or not), maybe we’ll make some progress on making things more equitable for all adult beverages.

And please – if you’re looking to argue that I missed the hint of BBQ chicken thighs in your favorite spirit, perhaps you should start you own blog.  😉 We’re friends here, let’s play nice.

Here’s the ratings scale:

My ratings: the whiskey glass system

Scotch glass_40

Please find the nearest project in need of paint stripping and use this spirit.  Smell and taste have combined into something pretty close to undrinkable.  I wouldn’t recommend it, even to people I don’t like.

Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40This craft spirit has all the great characteristics combined into one glass: it both tastes and smell like something you want to drink. Mix it or not, it works either way.  Price-point makes for an affordable everyday drink and is definitely a good choice for a gift.

Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40

This craft spirit has reached a level that few do (for me, at least), and it’s well worth the effort to acquire a bottle.  Price point isn’t even necessarily the highest in its class, which makes it even more awesome.  Buy it, buy it now…and invite over people you really like (so they know what to buy you for your birthday).

Why craft liquor?

So, why would you want to choose craft liquor over the big label stuff?  One of the things that drew me in is the entrepreneurial spirit of these distillers.  Men and women that, in some cases, quit cooshy corporate jobs, to follow what they love.  They’ve given the blood, sweat, tears…and in some cases, mortgages, relationships, sleep and a myriad of other things to purse what they love.  And it shows.

Don’t believe me?  Check out:

  • Dad’s Hat in Pennsylvania: was it inspired by an old dude wearing a hat?  Find out!
  • Think that all distillers are men?  Think again!  Troy and Sons founder, Troy Ball, begs to differ!
  • And what about states that aren’t associated with distilling?  Meet the first distillery in Utah since Prohibition.
  • The gold rush meets the hooch rush – check out Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado.
  • Sustainability?  We’ve got that!  Meet Tuthilltown Spirits, who lease a farm to grow their own grains.

Now that you’ve got a feel for what craft spirits are – get a taste of them, too!  Start searching for your new favorite now!

Whiskey? Whisky? Bourbon? Scotch? Bueller?

Do you know the difference between whiskey, whisky, bourbon and Scotch? Ingredients?  Where it’s made?  Who made it?  Bad spell check?  Let’s find out.

Saying “whiskey” is like saying beer.  There are a bunch of varieties, depending on where it’s distilled, and what grains are used.  Tennessee whiskey, bourbon whiskey, Scotch whisky – there’s even one made from quinoa.  Today’s craft distillers are nothing if not creative and willing to try new things. [Read more…]

The future of craft distilling

Welcome to the 21st century!  Craft beer is popular and getting more popular each year.  Names like Stone Brewing and Dogfish Head are known nationally, and maybe even internationally (if you count Canada).  While the economy hasn’t been exactly stellar the last few years, alcohol sales have held steady. That means people are still making room in their budgets for an evening out or a bottle of their favorites brews or liquors.  With its positioning as a premium item combined with the personable stories behind the spirits, enter craft distilling into the market at the perfect time! Did you know?  Beer and liquor start the exact same way, with grains and hot water, basically.  Once the mash is ready, you can send it off to be hopped and make it beer, or send it through a distillation process and it becomes liquor.  Yes – for those of you reading this, that’s a huge simplification of the distilling process, but I’ve gotta save something for future posts, right?Whiskey_glass_2 So what is “craft” distilling? The laws that govern distilling don’t acknowledge the distinction between a small distillery and an international conglomerate like Diageo (the peeps behind Johnnie Walker, Ketel One and Bushmills, to name a few of their brands). Hence the prohibitively expensive licenses and annual taxes for a small distillery.  State by state, it’s being worked on, but it’s a slow, legislative process (I’m looking at you, New Jersey).  In the meantime, distillers are still doing what they do best, making unique, interesting and ultimately drinkable whiskies, vodkas, rums – you name it, you can likely find it. Which brings you to this site – you’ve come to the right place to find your new favorite craft spirits!


Part 2 – Prohibition

1920. There are 1.8 billion people – in the entire world.  Small pox is a problem for a bunch of them.  In more advanced countries, we’re concerned with politics.  Switzerland joins the League of Nations (no, not one with superhero tights, though that might have been fun).  The United States grants women the right to vote.  But first, makes all of us vote sober – by passing the 18th Amendment.

Prohibition.  While “legal” distilleries were outlawed, there were plenty of illegal ones.  Moonshiners popped up all over the country, making ‘shine out of whatever they had on hand.  Ever heard of bathtub gin?  There’s a reason it’s called bathtub, and not because you could possibly end up in one after a hard night of drinking said gin. Nope, it really was made in a bathtub (either using water from the tap or actually mixed up directly in the tub).  Gin, like vodka, isn’t an aged spirit – so pretty much straight from the still to the glass.  Or straight from the bathtub, as the case may be.

After thirteen (mostly) dry years, Prohibition was repealed.  Well, mostly.  There are still federal laws, along with a patchwork of various state laws that make it interesting to distill in the US.  “Interesting”, as in, heavily taxed (hello, New Jersey) and often accompanied by mind-boggling amounts of permits and licenses. Ask the Internet and opinions vary on whether Prohibition actually reduced the amount of drinking during that time.  Some say yes, some say no – shows like HBO’s Boardwalk Empire would lead you to believe that there was plenty of liquor to be had, for those that were interested in having it.

Next time: Part Three, Craft Distilling and the future!


Who made the first alcoholic beverage?

Before we jump right into craft distilling, it’s probably helpful to understand how distilling started.  Let’s take a trip back to 9,000 B.C. Along with the jewelry and cave paintings we find from ancient man, we’ve also found fragments of jars with evidence of fermentation and honey.  [Read more…]

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