Archive for the ‘Prohibition’ Category

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The 2012 Nobler Holiday Gift Guide – Happy Repeal Day!

December 5, 2012

repealday

It seems rather appropriate that this year’s Nobler Holiday Gift Guide begin on Repeal Day. 79 years ago today, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified signalling the end of the near 1 1/2 decade long era of Prohibition. The ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the states, often referred to as the Noble Experiment, was a tumultuous albeit fascinating time period in our country’s existence. Which is why for my first gift suggestion of the year, I refer you to Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

You might be wondering if your drink loving gift receiver is into reading historical non-fiction (of if they even know how to read at all), but I’ll tell you from experience, Okrent’s work is sure to pull in just about anyone who appreciates the complexity of alcohol, particularly those who have become enamored with the new American resurgence in craft distillation. But just in case your friend, family member, or loved one is terrified of actually reading (so happy I overcame this fear a few years ago), pick up Ken Burns’ documentary, Prohibition, on DVD as this PBS aired mini-series covers much of the same material.

So Happy Repeal Day to you all and check back every day for the next few weeks for more of this year’s Nobler Holiday Gift Guide!

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Drinking on the Job

November 28, 2012

The alcohol fairy stopped by my office again it seems…and by alcohol fairy, I mean my good friend at work who happened to be previously married to a Diageo employee, and now has two kids and generally less time to drink the countless bottles of booze he still has in his collection. So yeah, he and I get along really well…

This batch of flavored clear liquors (almost certainly limited releases) will be enjoyed at some point down the line but for now, they are tucked away in my cubicle drawer to remain out of site until one after one, I carry them home on the train. It’s not so much that anyone here would be appalled at this circumstance, but for me, I feel a bit more comfortable with the booze hidden away. But this wasn’t always the case now was it?

The success of Mad Men has re-glamorized the notion of drinking in the office. A bottle of scotch in the drawer was and in some fields still is, the sign of confidence, power, and maybe more currently, an employer who values their employees as responsible adults. And yes, these connections to the ad agencies of the 60s and the lifestyle of the power players holds accurate and is indeed intriguing, but only when you consider the significance of the timeline, post Prohibition.

I’ve written about this before but just for a quick refresher, the distillation boom in the 1800s significantly changed the way the average drinker consumed. Leading up until that point, it was extremely common for the men of agriculture and industry to drink a low alcohol beer with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In some cases, these drinks were actually consumed as “safer” alternatives to the low quality water available. But once distilled spirits became readily available, these drinking habits caused a bit of a problem; low alcohol beer and still proof whiskey aren’t exactly in the same category. This certainly wasn’t the only reason, but let’s just say the “behavior” of some of these men made it pretty easy for the Temperance Movement to showcase the perils of alcohol.

So fast forward through Prohibition where alcohol sale and production was deemed illegal to the period of time in the US depicted in Mad Men. Industry post WWII was changing gears and new careers / new businesses were shaping the new American economy. And in some ways, and maybe this is a bit dramatic, successful businessmen, drinking on the job was a symbol for true recovery and advancement. Prohibition, the Great Depression, and two World Wars later, we embraced the notion of alcohol having a place in our daily lives and with the very same “strong stuff” that got some folks in trouble in the first place.

Nowadays, it has become more and more popular to offer full bars and kegerators in the offices of start-ups, tech brands, and modern day ad agencies particularly those located in big cities. Hoping to develop a sense of mutual respect with employees, these offerings assume if treated like a responsible adult, one will act like it. And in most cases I imagine it works. A little booze generates a bit of creativity and as I have heard from a number of friends in these areas of work, actually entices people to stay later, and work harder. For me, I appreciate the openness some of these employers take to offer alcohol freely but I tend to admire the private stash a bit more. Maybe one day when I’m out of these cubicles…

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New York’s Distillery Resurgence

October 10, 2012

New York City is often a focal point of National economic indicators. So after a little analysis of the recent liquor boom within the city and state, it isn’t so hard to see why the spirit industry as a whole is on the up and up.

I’ve seen a few different ratios declared but no matter which number you trust, the following fact is mind-blowing. Approximately 1000/1 is the ratio of small-scale distilleries in NY state at the peak of the 19th century to the number just ten years ago. Think about that for one second. As you might imagine, the laws of Prohibition, prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US devastated the thriving industry. But to think that close to 70 years after it’s repeal, NY state hadn’t even come close to recovering, is really quite fascinating.

Turns out, while many of the details of Prohibition were overturned, not quite all of them were lifted. To be more specific, many of the regulations that classified distilleries as small batch or larger were skewed heavily against start-up initiatives. The licenses required for production were cost prohibitive and the taxes associated with the sale of these goods basically acted as an unresolvable deterrent. That is until 2002.

At this crucial time in NY legislation, a newly classified “D” distilling permit was introduced allowing small batch production at a seriously affordable license cost with one key caveat: 50% of the input ingredients must be sourced from New York State. It isn’t so hard to see why this has made NY one of the most easy and attractive places to open a distillery. Being able to produce up to 35,000 proof gallons per year, being able to provide tours, and being able to tout their product as locally sourced was all the incentive the minds behind Tuthilltown Spirits, Kings County Distillery, and many others have needed to get up and running.

But New York isn’t the only place in the US changing legislation to spur on distillation activity. Oregon for example passed similar allowances in 2008 and their now 46 distilleries contributed $53 million in annual sales within the state alone. These are the types of changes that spur on growth and real creativity. And in direct effect, some of the most interesting things in American Liquor have emerged in the last few years. I can only imagine what else is coming!

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What Recession?

October 9, 2012

Okay, so obviously this is a made up graph. One that I put together in about five or six seconds. But you get the point. In a time where you can’t go a half hour without hearing something about the struggling economy, Mitt Romney’s lies, and Obama’s debate flub, I’m here to tell you that we have one industry doing quite well through it all. The beer, wine, and spirit industry has seen some pretty fantastic growth over the last few years including ten percent growth in manufacturing in a 12 month period and similar results in overall sales. And almost by default, the answer to this curious dichotomy with the rest of our economic standing, is that when people are happy, they drink, and when they are stressed and depressed, they drink just the same, maybe even more.

Well, I’m not willing to say this has nothing to do with the recent growth, but the story is a bit more interesting than that and in fact it’s a lot more encouraging. Over the next few days I’m gonna post about some of the more recent and fundamental changes that are making the US alcohol industry the place to be! New legislation, new innovation, and a whole lot of passion is making for more competition, more choice and a heck of a lot of good drinking!

Stay tuned, as this is going to be way more interesting than all that political BS…and probably a whole lot more factual..

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Kings Co. Distillery

August 9, 2012

Last night the Noblers took a trip down to the Navy Yard for a tour and tasting with the Kings Co. folks and ended up coming away with a hell of a lot more. Colin Spoelman, one of the Kings Co. founders met us at the foot of their relatively new space, an epic 19th century brick warehouse that used to exist as the Navy Yard’s bank. While it’s easy to imagine the floor plan being filled with folks coming to collect their pay after a hard day of grueling work, it seems just as perfectly designed for a modern-day distillery.

But while Colin and his team may be producing in the modern distillation boom, his knowledge and commitment to the historical relevance of alcohol in this country, in our city, and in his own life set the Kings Co. experience apart. Our tour started in their corn field, which exists seemingly more as an experiment, or as a way to stay connected to their source, rather than a true attempt at ingredient production. (They are already producing moonshine and bourbon at a clip which requires a high yield crop of over 250x the size of their own.) But at they very least, as a backdrop to their production story, it’s refreshing that even in an industrial setting, these guys stay connected to their product.

I was equally amazed as we made our way through the facility and through Colin’s descriptions by just how much liquor production has shaped American history. Of course, the Nobler Experiment on its own is rooted in my passion for this history, but for me, I hadn’t ever ventured back much past the late 1800s. As we listened to Colin describe the clashes, the taxes, the mass consumption, and more that ultimately led to Prohibition and the enormous fees restricting distilleries like themselves entering the industry, you couldn’t help but feel what these guys are doing is truly significant. As one of the first to take advantage of the relaxation in fees and regulations by the state of NY, Kings Co. manages to blur the lines between the past and the present.

But all that means nothing if their product is shit, and luckily for us, and for all of you, these guys know what they are doing. I was personally surprised the most by their un-aged corn whiskey, or moonshine. I’ve talked some smack about moonshine on the blog before but I’ve got to say, Kings Co. has got me converted. Their moonshine is not the slightest harsh, but rather sweet, floral and actually refreshing. Their bourbon, which I had a few times before is equally delicious. Aging for one year in smaller 5 gallon barrels produces the expected comforting notes in a bourbon but manages to maintain those original flavor components from the moonshine making for a far more interesting overall profile. Lastly, we tasted their chocolate flavored bourbon which blew us all away. You might immediate assume a bunch of grown men drinking chocolate whiskey isn’t exactly Nobler Experiment worthy, but that’s just because you haven’t tried this stuff. The aroma this whiskey gives off is undeniably chocolate. But as you take a sip, and the sweetness you expect simply does not show up, the marriage between chocolate and bourbon makes total sense. Colin mentioned this will only be a special release from time to time, so if you see it out there, you better snag a bottle or two! 

Maybe the most significant component of our visit, however, was the sense that there is something happening at Kings Co. that you can’t help but root for; and it seems to all start with Colin. As he described the “bootlegging” ways of some folks in his dry Kentucky hometown, it wasn’t hard to see where his passion comes from.

From 300 square feet to their new Navy Yard home, Kings Co. has managed to make a name for themselves in this new world of distillation. I just love that they refuse to forget about the old world practices that got them here.

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The Real American Industry Resurgence

August 8, 2012

Sorry for the lack of posting the last week or so but don’t worry, after this coming weekend, my favorite of every year, I’m sure to be back on the posting wagon. And I should probably get on the other wagon as well after we demolish some Cow Thieves…but more on that later.

Tonight is the first Nobler Gathering in some time as this summer has been a nightmare for scheduling. The “team” is heading over to Kings Co. Distillery for a little tour and tasting and it’s not at all shocking that we are psyched to get back together over some local bourbon. But it was the tweet, or should I say re-tweet by the Kings Co. folks that got me thinking this morning…

And yes, you can follow my Nobler Experimenting here…

The following is a reminder of just how exciting the world of American liquor is right now:

“In 1800, the US had 14,000 (mostly small) distilleries. In 1900: 700. After prohibition: 12. Today: 200.” – @Foodista

Think about that (I didn’t check that it’s 100% accurate but considering it was on Twitter, I didn’t think that was necessary). I’m not a financial analyst, a politician, or a whosamawhatzit, but you have to love this resurgence of American Industry. I’m not entirely sure what the hell 14,000 distilleries were doing in 1800, but as the micro or small batch distillery movement continues, I’m excited to take part in tasting it all!

Check in tomorrow for a Kings Co. post and if we’re lucky, a little wine knowledge by Nobler Adam by weeks end…

 

 

 

 

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Anyone want to try my bathtub gin?

July 10, 2012

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve become quite fond of gin these days. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on a gin kick, but I certainly have a deeper appreciation for it now than when I was stocking my freezer with Gilbey’s. And it’s no secret that a number of small batch US distilleries have been focusing on making a mark on the world of Gin. But gin is a spirit with a polarizing history; simultaneously representing the classic and refined Old World liquors while being synonymous with a wave of American renegades unwilling to give in to the absurdity of Prohibition. Something tells me Mr. Gilbey would not have been thrilled to have been served “bathtub gin”.

When the 18th amendment was passed and the bars and liquor shops were shuttered, fun-loving folks like all of us were forced to be a little creative. Even the most fanatic whiskey drinkers knew that in those times, for storage and consumption sake, an aging process wasn’t exactly ideal. In addition, even un-aged clear liquors such as vodka and gin typically went through a distillation process when in actual production. This process further purifies grain alcohol producing the neutral spirits we are still familiar with today. But considering it wasn’t legal to purchase and consume booze, you can’t imagine many folks were rushing to build stills in their bathrooms. Plus, why would you when you have the bathtub right there.

Bathtub gin is a bit of a misnomer or at least it’s a bit misleading. That same grain alcohol that would typically run through the distillation process, technically doesn’t have to. Despite being harsh and packed with impurities, Prohibition party planners quickly realized that when watered down and flavored with herbs, spices and fruits, grain alcohol made a decent party punch. Juniper berries were often used because of their strong aroma and flavor helping to mask the intensity of the spirit. These spirit filled glass jars topped off with water from the bathtub faucet (made for the most convenient filling station) became a huge hit, despite causing, in some cases some unintended consequences. As I mentioned in my post on home-distillation, the impurities in grain spirits may not taste great, but most likely won’t kill you. But the use of wood based spirits and de-natured alcohols out of confusion or stupidity led to a few Prohibition party fouls.

But luckily for us, we aren’t stuck sneaking in grain alcohol; not since 1933. High proof vodka is the best spirit to choose if you are interested in making your own “bathtub gin” and relying on the very same principles of flavor extracting, making your own delicious “gin-like” spirit is pretty straightforward. You may be wondering, “isn’t this type of bathtub gin pretty much just flavored vodka?”. Actually yes, that’s 100% true. Which is why some of those same passionate small batch distilleries like NY Distilling Co. make a point to emphasize their production style differing from a simple post distillation “flavoring”. But for you at home, looking to mess around with different herbs and different fruits for example, this method is your best bet; particularly if you have a now-booming herb garden in full effect!

Which considering I do, I’m getting to work on some late summer “bathtub gins” to be served at the very first Nobler mixer. Yes, that’s right, I said mixer! And considering I used to “pregame” in the shower through college, making a “bathtub gin” only seems appropriate…

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