EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Review: The Maturation of Distilled Spirits

Hubert Germain-Robin, The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience (Hayward: White Mule Press, 2016), 146 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780996827706

Hubert Germain-Robin comes from a long line of Cognac producers in France. But after years of training in traditional methods of distillation and maturation he moved to California to explore new possibilities. Free of the strict laws and traditions of Cognac, Germain-Robin was able to experiment and take chances in some areas while keeping the most effective traditional methods of making brandy. What resulted were some of the finest American brandies ever produced.

Germain-Robin’s newest book The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience, is the follow up to Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion. In the new book Germain-Robin walks the reader through the entirety of the maturation process, from the oak that goes into the barrels, cellaring, proofing, blending and bottling the finished spirit all focused on the central theme of vision and patience. However, at 146 pages this book is more akin to a seminar than years of apprenticeship. To fully capture the wealth of knowledge that Germain-Robin learned over his lifetime of work would probably be near impossible, but the purpose of the book is to invite the reader into thinking about the active role the cellar master takes in guiding the maturation of the spirit as it sits in barrels for years or even decades.

The Maturation of Distilled Spirits is a good place to start for any distiller who wants to explore and employ traditional methods of maturation. Each chapter offers a brief explanation of a variety of maturation techniques, some of which are common in Cognac but completely novel for American whiskey. Following the theme of vision and patience, Germain-Robin explains the important role of the cellar master and how their choices and decisions serve both themselves and future generations. While creating a spirit that can age for 70-plus years is an obvious skill, so too is the patience and ability to know when to allow barrels to keep aging, when to transfer them to glass demijohns, and when to blend and bottle these older spirits.

Germain-Robin is a proponent of what some are calling “Slow Distillation,” a movement that looks to encourage the production of great spirits made from high quality ingredients with traditional techniques. U.S. craft distillers can learn much from masters like Germain-Robin and develop new traditions that will allow future generations to reap the benefits of their vision and patience.

Originally published in Distiller (Winter 2016): 151

Review: Bourbon by Fred Minnick

Fred Minnick, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2016), 240 pages $25.00 ISBN 9780760351727

Fred Minnick is the author of five books, three of which are about whiskey and the history of bourbon. His book Whiskey Women earned a Gold Medal at the ForeWord Reviews Book Awards and a Silver at the Indie Publisher Awards. Minnick serves as a judge for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskies Awards. Minnick is also an Iraq War veteran where he served as a U.S. Army public affairs photojournalist.

Minnick’s newest book, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey is a thorough history of bourbon, which for over 200 years has been one of the nation’s most important spirits. The book is broken down into 12 chapters that chart, as the subtitle says, the rise, fall and rebirth of an American whiskey. Minnick quickly jumps into contested waters by exploring who has the most legitimate claim to be called the “Father of Bourbon.” Unlike many other whiskey books that just repeat marketing myths, Minnick has done the work of diving into the historical record and offers a better picture of the history of bourbon than has been seen in some time. He traces the large social movements as well as the lives of individuals that supported and fought the bourbon industry throughout U.S. history.

In an attempt to appeal to more readers, the pages are illustrated, and Minnick uses quite a few sidebars in each chapter to give quick details or extrapolate on an interesting moment or person in bourbon history. Bourbon is one of the best histories on the subject to come along in a while. 

Originally published in Distiller Magazine (Winter2016):  151

Review: Maker's 46

Owned by Beam Suntory, Maker's 46 Kentucky Bourbon Whisky Barrel Finished with Oak Staves is distilled at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY,  and bottled at 47% ABV.

Price: $27-$40

Launched in July 2010, Maker's 46 was the first regularly produced variation of Maker's Mark Bourbon in 52 years. The original Maker's Mark was sold for the first time in 1958 and was the creation of Bill and Margie Samuels. Maker's Mark is reported to have a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% Red Winter Wheat, 14% Barley and aged about six years. Maker's 46 takes mature casks of Maker's Mark, empties them out adds in 10 "seared" French oak staves, refills the barrels with the mature bourbon and lets them rest for another ten weeks or so. Neither Beam Suntory or Maker's Mark really explains what seared oak staves means but I'm guessing that the staves are heated somewhere between toasted and charred. As for the name, when Samuels was working on the formula for this iteration of Maker's, he did a quite a few test batches and apparently number 46 was the winner, hence Maker's 46. 

Like Maker's Mark, Maker's 46 is one of a small handful of American Whiskeys that spells whisky without an 'e' on its label. If you'd like to know the significance of spelling whiskey with or without an 'e,' the short answer is just convention but if you'd like the long answer, check out my series Whiskey vs. Whisky. Maker's 46 also shares the same iconic Maker's Mark stamp and dipped wax bottle neck. According to the Samuels' family, Margie came up with the idea for both of these elements. The stamp which has a image of a star refers to Star Hill Farm where the distillery is locate, the "S" stands for Samuels and "IV" symbolizes that Bill Samuels Sr. was a fourth generation distiller.

Lastly, Maker's 46 was one of nine bourbons I selected in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50. You can read how it did here.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose is very nice. At 47% ABV the alcohol is clearly present and carries strong notes of vanilla and oak with lighter sweet aromas of caramel and burnt wood with a hint of grain or baked bread in the background. As the whiskey sits in the glass, the nose opens up with notes of oily tobacco, cedar and clove. With water more aromas of green oak open up. 

Palate: At first sip my reaction was "wow it is hot". To my taste this whisky is very astringent and taste like green wood. With water the astringency lightens  up a bit but doesn't go away. However, more flavors of cinnamon and clove come forward with a very light sweetness.

Finish: Neat, the finish has notes of tobacco, leather, corn and oak with the faintest hint of caramel. The finish is intense and bitter. With a little water the finish softens and some sweetness hangs on to the tip of the tongue.

Conclusion: Maker's 46 is not for me. I don't like the regular Maker's Mark so it's no surprise to me that adding more wood would not make my experience of it better. That being said, of you like Maker's Mark and you like extra aged bourbon with mower oak character at a higher proof they this might appeal to you. Also, I could see Maker's 46 working well mixed with soda or cola. The intensity of the spirit would probably stand up well to the dilution and some added sugar. 

Review: Larceny Bourbon

Owned and Distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries and bottled at 46% ABV.

Price: $19-$30

Larceny Bourbon is a small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon made by Heaven Hill. According to HH, each batch of Larceny come from less than 200 barrels that have aged between 6 and 12 years. Larceny is a wheated bourbon in the line of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon and according to Bill Straub of Modern Thirst it has a mash bill of 68% Corn, 20% Wheat and 12% Malted Barley. 

Thanks to  Sally Van Winkle Campbell and Sam Thomas we now know that John E. Fitzgerald whom the bourbon is named after was a U.S. Treasury Agent who had a knack for picking good barrels of whiskey. Pre-Prohibition whiskey man, Charles Herbst created the Old Fitzgerald brand, which was a bourbon made at the now defunct Old Judge distillery outside Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1999, Heaven Hill acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand and began bottling it from wheated bourbon made at their Bernheim distillery. Heaven Hill introduced Larceny around 2013.

Lastly, Larceny was one of nine bourbons I selected for a blind tasting of bourbons under $50.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Larceny has a strong woody aroma of oak and cedar, with notes of tobacco, leather and sweet cherries carried up on the alcohol.

Palate: The flavor has lots of spicy nutmeg and cove notes, with hints of candy orange and milk chocolate. This is a very woody bourbon with strong bitter tannins and a warmth starts in the mouth and travels down your chest.

Finish: The finish is long and dominated by wood and spice notes with a slight tinge of heat from the alcohol.

Conclusion: Larceny is not what I would call a soft or sweet bourbon. However, it does work well in a Manhattan that emphasizes the baking spice and wood notes over sweet cherry. While this is not my favorite bourbon, I think someone who likes their whiskeys more on the woody side of the spectrum this would be a solid purchase.