Cheers - September, 2015

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 20 of 51 21 September 2015 • Whiskey Geek Speak American whiskey is a spirit produced in the U.S., distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grains. There are a number of expressions and variants now on the market. Here's your cheat sheet to terms and defi nitions. ARTISANAL/CRAFT STYLES Like their craft beer cousins, micro-distillers are an iconoclastic bunch. Some hew to traditional styles, while others are wildly experimental. One thing is sure, craft distilling is booming. There are more than 500 microdistilleries licensed in the U.S. They don't all produce whiskey, of course. BOURBON Declared America's Native Spirit by a resolution of Congress in 1964, bourbon has been distilled here since the early 19th century. Although it can be produced in any state in the union, a full 95% is made in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Distilling Association. Strict regulations govern bourbon production: the mash bill must contain a minimum of 51% corn (and lesser percentages of wheat, rye or malted barley); it must be aged in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. After two years in barrel, the term "straight" may be added to the label. CORN/MOONSHINE Corn whiskey is distilled from a mash of at least 80% corn. It is the legal cousin to moonshine, that notorious illicit spirit. Both are usually clear, unaged spirits. Commercial "moonshine" plays on that "white lightning" image; it's often sold in mason jars. FLAVORED Whiskey blended with added fl avors has been around for a while, but now this category has sparked to red hot, throwing off a fl urry of fl avors—spicy cinnamon, cherry, honey, apple and maple. Purists may not touch the stuff, but proponents say it draws new consumers into the whiskey category. Mixologists often conjure up their own in-house infusions. NON-DISTILLER PRODUCER (NPD) You won't see this designation on any label—and that's the point. These whiskey companies don't make their own, but rather purchase stocks of whiskeys to bottle and sell under their own brand name. The practice is not an indication of quality; some well-regarded whiskeys are from NPDs. RYE Made from a mash with a minimum of 51% rye, this whiskey's grain bill usually contains corn, wheat or malted barley. Maturation is traditionally in charred oak barrels, and the taste is similar to bourbon, but spicier and less sweet. There has been a resurgence of interest in rye whiskey during the past few years. Many mixologists fi nd that substituting rye for bourbon in classics makes for an interesting cocktail. SMALL BATCH/SINGLE BARREL These labels are applied to reserve, high-end releases. Small batch is a master distiller's blend of the best barrels in the rickhouse, made in limited quantities; when it's gone, it's gone. Single-barrel releases are bottled from one select cask; often, the whiskey is not cut with water before bottling, called "cask strength." TENNESSEE Made in Tennessee, naturally, this oak-barrel aged whiskey is technically a bourbon, but producers don't claim that on their labels. It also undergoes a charcoal-fi ltering process before bottling. Rye and corn whiskeys are also made in the state.—THS LOCKING UP INTEREST Julep has an active Locker program. Memberships are $1,500 per year; every other month, the bar selects a bottle of spirits according to individual customers' taste preferences and drops it into his or her locker. Whenever they visit, members and their guests can enjoy bottles from their lockers. "It's a more sophisticated version of bottle service," says Williams. Members also receive advance notice and preferential treatment at tastings and other events, plus a Festivus holiday party. Presentation of sipping whiskeys for all guests at Julep is splashy: Neat pours are served in Glencairn whisky glasses, with eyedroppers to add just the right amount of branch water. Flights are a way to show off rare or unusual bottles. Julep's Sugar and Spice fl ight ($12) highlights three rye whiskeys. "It's a subcategory that people are getting turned on by in a big way," Williams says about rye. (Indeed, rye has skyrocketed 536% in volume during the past fi ve years, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.) Julep plans new fl ights for the fall, including more high-end options as well as a selection of non-distiller producer bottlings. "NDPs are a hot topic," says Williams.Some people snub their noses at brands that don't produce their own juice he notes, "but that doesn't mean it can't be damn tasty." Overall, operators are upbeat about the future of American whiskey. Matuszek, for one, doesn't think that whiskey has even come close to reaching its full potential. The trend will continue "as mainstream consumers become more interested in higher- end products and that interest fi lters out of the major metropolitan areas and into suburban markets," predicts Vaughn at Baltaire. It also helps that the moonshine segment of the category is a bridge for some white- spirits drinkers to test whiskey, according to some experts. For certain, it's an exciting time to be into whiskey, says Williams. "I hope people continue to give whiskey a shot, because it's one of the most enjoyable spirits out there. It doesn't take the nerdiest kid on the block to fall in love with this stuff." Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance beverage writer.

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