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Imbibe!


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I recently turned up a letter from a New York bartender (Patrick J. Duffy - sic) in the New York Times of October 22, 1927.

To me, one of the interesting passages was the following:

"From 1884 to 1893 I was head bartender at the old Ashland House, Fourth Avenue and Twenty-fourth Street, and I know that the only Scotch whisky brought into this country then came in barrels and was called for only on rare wintry nights for use in "hot Scotches." The whisky was white as gin and was not popular with New Yorkers of those days.

Had they really not been storing or aging Scotch Whisky in charred barrels by that time?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I recently turned up a letter from a New York bartender (Patrick J. Duffy - sic) in the New York Times of October 22, 1927.

To me, one of the interesting passages was the following:

"From 1884 to 1893 I was head bartender at the old Ashland House, Fourth Avenue and Twenty-fourth Street, and I know that the only Scotch whisky brought into this country then came in barrels and was called for only on rare wintry nights for use in "hot Scotches." The whisky was white as gin and was not popular with New Yorkers of those days.

Had they really not been storing or aging Scotch Whisky in charred barrels by that time?

A couple of interesting things (to the likes of me, anyway) about that letter, but I'll address them in the Highball thread.

As for the Scotch, I think "white as gin" is an exaggeration. The stuff was shipped over in the barrel (not charred; only American whiskeys used those, and only some of them at that). If it came right over, and the barrel was used (and hence had much of its coloring power washed away), and it was bought and drained in good order, the whisky would be pretty damn light. If you left it in your cellar, though, like the "very fine Scotch (Caol Isla) whisky made in 1856" Jerry Thomas had in his cellar in 1870, then it would definitely have a fair amount of color--no different from single malts today.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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[...]

As for the Scotch, I think "white as gin" is an exaggeration. The stuff was shipped over in the barrel (not charred; only American whiskeys used those, and only some of them at that). If it came right over, and the barrel was used (and hence had much of its coloring power washed away), and it was bought and drained in good order, the whisky would be pretty damn light. If you left it in your cellar, though, like the "very fine Scotch (Caol Isla) whisky made in 1856" Jerry Thomas had in his cellar in 1870, then it would definitely have a fair amount of color--no different from single malts today.

Whew!

I was afraid I should be using something like Tuthilltown Spirits' Corn Whiskey or Stillwater Spirits' single malt, pot still, barley vodka for my blue blazers.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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...single malt, pot still, barley vodka...

Jesus wept! Why go to all the trouble of malting and pot-distilling if you're just going to strip all the flavor away from your whisky before it goes into the bottle? It's like force-feeding geese and then throwing away the livers.

Edited for tsk tsk tsk grammar.

Edited by Splificator (log)

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Ha! I haven't had it yet. The guy at the liquor store is a Scotch guy and he tells me it is fairly flavorful and does maintain a lot of the character of the distillate.

But, yeah, mostly something for Stillwater to sell while they age their allegedly scotch style whisk(e)y...

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Ha!  I haven't had it yet.  The guy at the liquor store is a Scotch guy and he tells me it is fairly flavorful and does maintain a lot of the character of the distillate.

But, yeah, mostly something for Stillwater to sell while they age their allegedly scotch style whisk(e)y...

"fairly...a lot" <"very...all"

But we all know that.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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This may be a topic for another thread, but I find that a lot of the new "artisinal" distilleries springing up around the country make vodka as the flagship product. This is likely due to a number of factors:

1. Vodka is popular and differences between brands are slight enough that there isn't much of a basis in flavor to differentiate brands other than image, which is advantageous for an "artisinal" distiller.

2. The product doesn't have to be aged and is ready for sale immediately.

3. If you want an unaged product based on neutral spirits, it's less difficult to make vodka than something like gin. But gin (usually soft-pedaling the juniper while playing up other aromatics) and/or flavored vodka usually comes next.

4. It's considerably less difficult, and far less expensive to make vodka than non-neutral unaged distillates such as eau de vie, grappa, or rum that is not wood-aged. To make neutral spirits, you just rectify the bejeesus out of it, and if there is any residual bejeesus left in the spirit post-rectification, that's what filtration is for. To make unaged distillates that are supposed to have some flavor requires a good deal more skill in every phase of the game.

5. Distilling spirits for aging probably isn't quite as finicky as to the distillation parameters compared to making flavorful unaged distillates such as poire williams, but nevertheless requires more skill than distilling neutral spirits and the learning curve may be longer considering that there are many more parameters to consider and the results aren't known until the aging process is completed.

--

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Chuck Cowdery had an excellent rant about this (scroll down) a while back; here's the heart of it:

Whatever the reason for an artisan producer’s existence, one is defined as an artisan, at least in part, by the ways one differs from an industrial producer of the same product.

Maybe by examining which sorts of products and services are still available from artisans and which are not, it will be possible to draw some conclusions. For example, why are there many artisan bakeries but no artisan laundries? Perhaps it’s because hand-made artisan bread is superior in at least some ways to factory-made bread, while everyone concedes that modern washing machines do a better job of cleaning clothes than an artisan with a rock and a river. In other words, not every tradition is worth preserving, but if you’re using small scale, manual processes rather than large scale, industrial processes, but you aren’t doing it within some sort of historical context, then what is the point?

I can understand feeling that you need to do a vodka in order to pay your bills until the whiskey is aged, but why not do, say, a Hollands-style gin, which is simply flavored young whiskey? Why not market a young whiskey and teach people to how to drink it and appreciate it?

I know the answer to that--it's too hard. But that's what being an artisan is all about, isn't it?

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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I know the answer to that--it's too hard. But that's what being an artisan is all about, isn't it?

i did a little research on this (because, secretly, my one dream in life is to be a distiller) and it seemed to me, after reading a bunch of interviews with artisanal distillers, that the answer has nothing to do with difficulty and everything to do with marketability and cashflow.

distilling is an expensive business and it makes sense to start out in an already established market (i.e., vodka) than try to create a new niche market (i.e., hollands gin or young whiskey). new markets cost money for education, marketing, advertising, etc. (however, if you can establish yourself as the only player in a niche market...).

these guys (and girls) have already spent their life savings on equipment, licensing, and distribution. they can't afford to produce something that won't sell. they're all making the whiskeys and hollands for themselves and friends already. just not selling it, because it would just sit on the shelf.

oops... this is the Imbibe! thread... still enjoying the heck out of this book. dave, are you really planning a punch book next?

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Getting a bit afield from Imibibe...

I assume these small players see what huge markets the vodka/gin markets are and figure there must be room for them to have a bit of space in the kiddie pool.

What they often don't realize, at least initially, is that the vodka (and gin) markets are swimming pools full of sharks. That they'd really be better off starting in the markets that aren't so dominated by the big players. Find a niche, do it well, get a reputation, establish a brand.

And also, that there are demands among bars doing cocktails for products that either don't exist or aren't well distributed.

If you asked a bartender or bar manager if they really need another vodka behind the bar, what would they say? Probably, "no not really," unless it has some specific local hook. If you ask a Martin Cate or Erik Adkins whether they'd like a Falernum, they'll probably say, "How many cases can you get me?"

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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What they often don't realize, at least initially, is that the vodka (and gin) markets are swimming pools full of sharks.  That they'd really be better off starting in the markets that aren't so dominated by the big players.  Find a niche, do it well, get a reputation, establish a brand.

that may be true... i guess it's a question of wanting to be the small fish in the ocean of sharks with the vodka or the retarded, crosseyed cousin with the moonshi... ahem, young wiskey. also, try to convince your investors and distributor that moonshine will sell better than vodka!

there is, at least, one distiller trying to do it. i read an interview with the distiller. his plan is to rebrand once his aged product is perfected. until then, he figures his best bet is to play on the west virginny hillbilly stereotype.

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I'm with the no-vodka crowd myself.  Why even get into the game to make vodka?

ha! i think we're all in the no-vodka crowd here. if there's one think i've gained from lurking and hanging around this board in 2+ years is a general disdain (a dislike bordering on hatred) for vodka. my point is: my general impression of craft distillers is that none of them want to make vodka (although i'm sure there are exceptions). vodka simply is a money-making venture until they can establish themselves with another product. maybe not the best way to go about it, but the "safest."

personally, i'd most like to support those craft distillers that provide products that i can use in recipes from Imbibe! c'mon, old tom gin! c'mon absinthe! c'mon genever! now if i could only convince PA to sell any non-vodka liquor.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm currently reading Imbibe! and enjoying every bit of it. I read William Grimes' book some time ago and was pleased to see another book on the history of cocktails. Anyone who is interested in learning what cocktails are really about needs to read this book. There is really no other like it.

now if i could only convince PA to sell any non-vodka liquor.

I couldn't agree more. Just getting them to stock things like Maraschino or a decent orange curacao would be a start! Until recently, they were shelving the cachaça with the liqueurs! :blink:

Edited by brinza (log)

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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  • 1 month later...

Could have sworn I posted this, but don't see it.

Last December, about when Mr. Wondrich's book was published, the San Francisco Chronicle re-ran this column from November 16, 1962.

THE MAN WHO RUINED BOOZING, Charles McCabe.

He was the most famous bartender in America, but he knew nothing about the pleasures of alcohol. As Don Juan almost certainly knew nothing about the pleasures of love...His frightening treatise was called "The Bon Vivant's Companion, or How to Mix Drinks." It followed the very odd idea that good whiskey, rum and gin were not good enough - they had to be gussied up with sugar, cherries, eggs, quince juice, Cointreau, peaches, coriander seeds and tansy. And Lord knows what else...He did to booze what today's hairdressers do to the beauty of women, most of whom now look as if they are wearing something to conceal a brain tumor.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Could have sworn I posted this, but don't see it.

Last December, about when Mr. Wondrich's book was published, the San Francisco Chronicle re-ran this column from November 16, 1962.

THE MAN WHO RUINED BOOZING, Charles McCabe.

He was the most famous bartender in America, but he knew nothing about the pleasures of alcohol. As Don Juan almost certainly knew nothing about the pleasures of love...His frightening treatise was called "The Bon Vivant's Companion, or How to Mix Drinks." It followed the very odd idea that good whiskey, rum and gin were not good enough - they had to be gussied up with sugar, cherries, eggs, quince juice, Cointreau, peaches, coriander seeds and tansy. And Lord knows what else...He did to booze what today's hairdressers do to the beauty of women, most of whom now look as if they are wearing something to conceal a brain tumor.

This gave me a good laugh..thank you.

www.amountainofcrushedice.com

Tiki drinks are deceptive..if you think you can gulp them down like milk you´re wrong.

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so i think this is new news...

imbibe won a james beard award...

congratulations mr. wondrich!

Hey, thanks very much! It's most gratifying, I won't deny it.

On to the next book!

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Any hint to what that next book might be?

It's a history of Punch, with recipes. Due in--well, whenever I finish it.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Congratulations! Well deserved. I'm well into my second reading.

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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