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What’s With the Cheap, Expensive Whiskey Trend?

Sitting inside while watching the snow come down through the window I’m convinced is why man invented whiskey. Now that rye whiskey has made a resurgence, I can enjoy the weather the same way my Pennsylvania ancestors did, before that failed nanny state experiment known as Prohibition nearly killed this local style forever. But when it comes to rye, there’s some things appearing in the market place I don’t understand.

There’s currently several market attempts to essentially pass off as high-end product something that closely resembles moonshine. The first one I’ve tried recently is Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye. This is a new rye brand that’s made locally right next door in Bristol, and while I think this rye has great potential if aged more, my first reaction was that it was bottled before its time. Dad’s Hat also make a white, un-aged whiskey product. I noticed the other day Jack Daniels is making one as well that sells for close to 40 dollars (!!!!) a fifth at the local state store.

I have no issue with the idea un-aged, or little aged whiskey products, but white whiskey is usually referred to as white lightning, or white dog. It is what you end up with after multiple distillations of the mash, but before the whiskey goes into the charred, white oak barrels which is where, over time, it turns from white lightning into whiskey. Whiskeys that were un-aged, or aged too little, were previously relegated to either the bottom shelf, or bottles that said XXX that your Uncle kept hidden out behind the woodshed.

I get nostalgia for the good ol’ days when our alcoholic ancestors drank motor fuel, but I’m just not going to pay a premium for something that’s not far from what grandpa used to store in the bathtub in case the Treasury men came knocking. Old Overholt is a perfectly fine rye whiskey for the price. Bulleit is also making a decent rye for less money. I currently have in the cabinet a Knob Creek rye that I like a lot. There’s a lot of companies starting to manufacture decent rye whiskey. But I don’t get the idea of selling un-aged or poorly aged products and charging top shelf prices for it. Surely this is a fad?

UPDATE: Uncle explains the origins.

UPDATE: The more things change, the more they stay the same:

Besides, the Whiskey Rebellion didn’t really have as disastrous an effect on Monongahela as is often portrayed. It could be argued, in fact, that it was the best thing to happen to American whiskey since the Revolutionary War popularized the substitution of American products for such “loyalist” items as tea and rum. The imposition of the excise tax may have made distilling prohibitive to some individual farmers, but for the commercial distiller the result was the elimination of an entire class of competition, and at a cost that could be simply added as an expense to the final price.

A Short Change of Topic

I’ve been in the office all day, part in meetings, and part at our new warehouse double checking some floor plans I’ve come up with to make sure everything fits in real life like it does on the computer. So since I have no idea what’s going on in the gun world today, I’ll talk about another topic near and dear to my heart: beer.

I’ve been thinking about getting back into brewing beer. I’ve tried the wine thing a few times now, and the time between effort and reward is too long. On the bright side, if you don’t have time for the wine, the wine has time. Unlike beer, if you properly sulfite your wine, it’ll get nothing but better with age. Beer will get better too, but only to a point, and then you better do something with it (drinking it is usually my solution).

As I’m sitting here in the Wegman’s Cafe waiting for rush hour to die down, I’m drinking a Samuel Smith’s India Pale Ale. The IPA, as a style, is one of my favorite ales to brew, and also is one of my favorite ales to drink. While I like a good American IPA, I really like English IPAs, so every time I have an English IPA, like Sammy Smith’s, I get the itch to brew my own. Most of the IPAs you drink in the US are going to be in the American style. What’s the difference? American IPAs are usually run pretty heavy on Cascade hops. The total bouquet may contain a lot more than Cascade, but it’s usually the prominent hop in most American made IPAs. English IPAs are also more heavily hopped than other styles — that’s part of surviving the trip to India, after all — but they generally use more subdued hop varieties. As a result, English IPAs don’t tend to punch you in the face with hops quite as much, and still retain quite a lot of malty body. I like that.

My tap water is medium-hard, so it tends to make really good IPAs and other medium-to-high gravity ales. I’ve had a tougher time with mash efficiency trying to do light bodied pale ales. When I’ve made my IPAs, I’ve always tried to hop them the English way so the maltiness of the ale comes through for a better balance. What’s your favorite beer?


I consider the ability to make alcohol an important skill. Like guns, ammunition, and gold, you’ll probably always be able to trade it for something. Now it’s the time of year when you can get fresh grape juice and grapes out of California. I ordered what’s called “bucket juice,” because it comes in large buckets. You know, the kind that kill kids in drowning accidents more often than guns.

When the season arrives, the local home brew stores put out alerts that you can put in orders for juice or grapes. After the orders are all taken, the stores put in orders to have the juice shipped from Golden State vintners to the store. Obviously this takes a few days from order to delivery, and who knows how long the stuff has been sitting in refrigeration out West. As soon as I got mine in the car, I heard hissing.

“What’s that hissing? I think that juice is already fermenting,” I told Bitter.

So I get the juice back home, and sure enough, it’s fizzing away. Apparently it’s not unusual for bucket juice to arrive fermenting. I’ve even read of cases where people have gotten bucket juice where fermentation has completely finished. We thieved a sample of the juice, and both agreed it tasted excellent. I added a bit of extra sugar, since the specific gravity wasn’t all that high. I could taste no alcohol on the juice, so I’m not sure fermentation had gone that far, but sugar also is very very effective at hiding alcohol. If I added too much, we’ll get a sweeter Burgundy. Wine yeast tends to commit environmental suicide at around 14% alcohol by volume, so if you add too much you will have some residual sweetness. I much prefer dry wines, so hopefully I did not overdo it.

I’ve generally not gotten burned in home brewing or winemaking just going with whatever happens. I’ve never had to toss a batch for being so foul it couldn’t be drunk. The juice tasted good, so even if wild yeast are going at the juice, they seem to be working well so far. I pitched my starter in, so hopefully that will be the dominant strain in a few days. We’ll see how this goes.

The one thing about winemaking vs. home brewing is you put a lot more time into a wine than you do a beer. An all-grain batch of beer might take a whole day to produce, but one racking a week later, then two weeks in secondary, and you’e ready for kegging and drinking. Winemaking never will take a whole day of your time at once, but over time it will take more of your time. It takes more care and you have more invested emotionally in its outcome. On the upside, if you screw up beer, you’re generally screwed, and it’s time to make like Elliot Ness and just dump it in the storm drain. Wine is easier to fix and doctor if you make mistakes. If you’re goal is adult beverage goodness, I can’t really say one path is superior to the other.

A Toast to Dr. Welch

With my first red wine now bottled, I can turn my attention to my next wine making endeavor. I made a few mistakes with my red which I will do my best not to repeat. My main complaint about the first red is that it was lifeless and watery. I racked into my brewing carboy for secondary, and topped off with water to fill the remaining headspace. Then I recalled that the standard winemaking carboy is six gallons, where as my brewing carboy is six and a half. I watered the wine down too much. That also affects how well the wine clarifies. It’s not that the wine is bad, it’s just that it’s not good. Hopefully with a little bottle conditioning, it’ll improve a bit.

What I’m going to try next is a white wine, made from reconstituted Welch’s 100% Niagara Grape Frozen Concentrate. After reading the history of Thomas Bramwell Welch, I decided I had to try this. Welch was the first person to get the idea of applying Dr. Pasteur’s microbe killing process to grape juice. There were many things to admire about Dr. Welch, being an abolitionist and active on the Underground Railroad. But he was also a world class busybody prohibitionist, and it is that particular history that has made me decide to turn some of Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine into a real McCoy. It would probably kill the old man to know the company that he founded, and bears his name, seems to be on relatively friendly terms with the home winemaking community, and willing to answer questions from home winemakers using the Welch’s product to make wine. But I suppose this day in age shouting, “Be gone sinner, and drinker of the demon spirits!” into the phone of people wanting to know the acid additions to their grape juice, or sulfite concentrations, wouldn’t go over too well among the juice buying public, never mind hobby winemakers.

What the body politic did to prohibitionists is a wonderful lesson for our cause. To the extent there even are prohibitionists these days, they are viewed as out of the mainstream and quacky. We almost have the opponents of gun rights there, provided we keep pushing. I’ll drink a toast to Dr. Welch, and his company, and hope in our current struggle, our opponents suffer the same political fate.

Mystery I Didn’t Even Know Was a Mystery Solved

Apparently there’s a strain of yeast in lager yeast that no one has ever been able to identify. Turns out it’s a strain of a wild Patagonian yeast that somehow made its way to Bavaria. The important takeaway from this is that this discovery is “paving the way for new types of designer beers.” Give the strain to the folks at Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware. If there’s anything good that be made from it, they’ll figure it out.


Tax Cutting I Heartily Approve Of

Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA-06) has proposed cutting the federal beer tax. His district has a number of microbreweries. If you haven’t tried any of the breweries mentioned in the article, I would recommend it. Victory and Sly Fox are particularly stellar breweries.

National Coffee Day

According to my favorite state government reporter, it’s National Coffee Day today. Normally, I could care less. The only coffee we ever drink is the stuff from Starbucks that probably has some coffee in it, but you wouldn’t know with all of the other crap they put in it. At least until recently.

When we announced we were headed to the Big Island, a friend from NRA mentioned that her father owned a coffee farm where he grows, processes, and sells his own coffee. We made it out there on our last full day on the island, and indulged in a couple of bags. We bought one to try out ourselves, assuming that we’d use it for things like ice cream or other decidedly non-coffee culinary adventures. Instead, this coffee has turned us into weekend coffee drinkers. We went out and bought a french press since we didn’t have a coffee maker (but we did own a coffee grinder!). Every weekend morning now has a new tradition – getting up and having a cup and a half of delicious Kona coffee.

Something Has Gone Horribly Wrong

PETA and HSUS are gonna love this. For that reason, I should probably approve, but really, it just freaks me out.

Several Food Freedom Issues

Bitter notes over at her gun-blog-turned-food blog how Bloomberg is being two-faced about food control, and also that home brewers in Oregon are getting screwed by a bureaucratic ruling that’s just destroyed a good part of their community. Now they know how gun owners and shooters feel. Bureaucrats in this country are out of control. One thing I would suggest for fixing this problem is rediscovering a very strong non-delegation doctrine.

Beer Exemptions

NRA isn’t the only one carving out exemptions for itself. Boston Beer company is getting in the game too:

I would be in favor of the proposal to lower taxes on craft breweries, but I see no reason to create a law that would give Boston Beer a tax advantage until they grow to three times their present size. The idea is to encourage small craft breweries. Once you hit two million barrels, you ain’t small no more. Take it on the chin, Jim, and pay Uncle Sam the full tab. You can afford it.

Hat tip to Liquidity Preference. Personally, I don’t like the idea of special tax statuses at all, even if it’s just for actual craft brewers. But I can also understand small brewers trying to get any leg up they can. The big brewers and distributors have a mega-powerful lobby in DC and state capitols that tailors liquor laws to benefit themselves. It’s regulatory capture at its finest.

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