On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
This storied spirit has a history both global and local, whether distilled in the northern isles of Scotland or the green hills of Kentucky. Sales of all types of whiskey are soaring, and small craft distilleries are popping up across the U.S. We learn about the different varieties–from bourbon to Scotch– and how this liquor is made and enjoyed. Responsibly, of course.
- Kevin Kosar Author, 'Whiskey: A Global History"; editor, alcoholreviews.com
- Bill Thomas Co-owner, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, Bourbon and Breadsoda
- Becky Harris Distiller and co-owner, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company
From: Rachel Sergi, beverage director at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon
Ingredients: 1 oz. Pierre Ferrand Cognac, .25 oz. Lime Juice, 1.5 oz Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth, .75 oz. Chairman’s Reserve Rum, barspoon Grenadine Shake, double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with brandied cherry.
Ingredients: 2 oz. Old Fitzgerald BIB Bourbon, .5 oz. Campari, .5 oz. Sweet Vermouth. Stir in mixing glass over ice. Strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with orange peel.
Original recipe from Jack Rose Dining Saloon
Ingredients: 2 oz Wry Moon White Whiskey, .5 oz Cocchi Americano, .25 oz. Pernod Absinthe, pinch Maldon Sea Salt , 2 small dash Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Build drink in rocks glass, minus salt. add Kold draft ice, sprinkle pinch of sea salt on ICE…stir! Garnish with trimmed orange peel
Thee Betty White
Original recipe from Jack Rose Dining Saloon
Ingredients: 1.75 oz. Hendrick’s Gin, .5 oz. Rothman & Winters Cherry Liqueur, .5 oz White Pepper Syrup, .5 oz. Lemon juice, 1.25 oz.White beer
Add all ingredients with the exception of the beer to tin and shake. Double strain into coupe glass. Float the beer on top and garnish with cherry/lemon stick.
Catoctn Creek Whiskey Bottling on NBC’s Nightly News:
Tour of the American Whiskey Trail from the Military Times:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. An amber hue, warm smell and smooth finished are considered hallmarks of a good whiskey. What exactly is whiskey? Bourbon, rye, scotch and Irish, all different kinds, but what makes them different? And do you spell it with an E or without? Should it be sipped straight or in a cocktail? With Prohibition almost 80 years behind us, the spirit is enjoying a revival in the U.S., with craft distilleries popping up across the country and all kinds of new varieties hitting the market, making us thirsty for knowledge about this storied spirit.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us now in studio to talk whiskey is Kevin Kosar. He is the author of "Whiskey: A Global History" and editor of the website, alcoholreviews.com. Kevin, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KEVIN KOSARThank you for having me here.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Becky Harris, distiller and co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Loudon County, Va. Becky Harris, thank you for joining us.
MS. BECKY HARRISWell, thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Bill Thomas is a whiskey collector and co-owner of Bourbon, Breadsoda and Jack Rose Dining Saloon, which carries over 1,400 kinds of spirits, many of them whiskeys. Bill Thomas, thank you for joining us.
MR. BILL THOMASGreat, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join this whiskey conversation, call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. No questions about whiskey are too simple or too complex for our panel. So give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask your whiskey question there. Kevin, I'll start with you, but I'd really like Becky and Bill ultimately to answer this question before we get into specifics. I'd like to know, what are your earliest memories of whisky and whether you liked it when you first tried it or not?
KOSARMy earliest memory was not a good one. It was -- I was age 21 and I knew nothing about spirits. I grew up in Ohio, in what was basically a beer culture, beer in cans culture. And when I turned 21, I thought, by gum, I'm going to go to a spirit store and I'm going to one of every major type of spirit.
NNAMDINot a good idea.
KOSARBottle of rum, bottle of whiskey. And as a college student, of course, I didn't have much money to spend so I went for the cheapest stuff I could find. And so I took it back and I recall the whiskey, I poured it and just chugged a little glass of it down and I thought my eyes were going to pop out. It was really a dreadful experience.
NNAMDIYou followed up a bad decision with a bad idea with buying the cheapest you could find of different kinds. What was your first experience, Becky?
HARRISI was -- have a similar background to Kevin. I grew up in Wisconsin, which is definitely a beer culture as well, and I guess I remember trying it in college and, you know, it was just kind of like, nah, not so much and, you know, really didn't get interested until relatively recently.
NNAMDIAfter you got married?
HARRISYes, actually after he talked me into starting a distillery was when I really got interested in it.
NNAMDIWe'll talk about how that happened later on. Bill, how did you start out?
THOMASI started very young, younger than I should of and unfortunately my experiences were great. But I'd say my introduction to whiskey or more the fascination probably came from my grandparents talking about when they were running bars and restaurants during Prohibition and those stories. So that's where the fascination came in, but I have to admit I took the drink very, well, very early.
NNAMDIOf course, being from the Caribbean, I started with rum way too early also, but we won't go into that. When we talk about whiskey, Bill, we're talking about a few different varieties of the stuff, but at its most straightforward, what is whiskey?
THOMASYou're looking at a different mash bales or grains that are distilled and then aged in oak, is essentially what whiskey is.
NNAMDIWhat distinguishes different varieties like bourbon, rye, scotch?
THOMASWell, with bourbon you have very strict tenants, so it can be made grain, aged for a minimum of two years for bourbon, or for straight bourbon. For bourbon, it can be aged actually, the myth is, you think it has to be two years, but it can be aged for just a moment in oak. You have -- typically it has to be 51 percent corn, second grain is malted barley and then the third grain is generally wheat or rye, sometimes all four combined to make bourbon, but generally haven't too good a representative of all four grains together.
THOMASWith single malt scotch, what you have is single malts, malted barley and then with a blended scotch, what you have is neutral grain spirits mixed with single malts to create sometimes up to, I think, 200 or 115 some of these blends to make one particular whiskey. Single malts combined with grains, which is absolutely amazing when you think about that.
NNAMDIAnd rye, I guess, is similar to bourbon but just made with rye?
THOMASAbsolutely, with the rye as you're -- it can be 100 percent rye or you can use rye as the main grain.
NNAMDIAnd of course, Kevin, inquiring minds want to know, why is that sometimes there's an E in whiskey and other times, no E?
KOSARWell, it's just a kind of oddball historical artifact. Canada, they tend to spell it without E, Ireland with the E, Scotland, without the E and, you know, it's like so many other bits of language, until somebody comes in and sets an official rule about it and, you know, it's going to verbal anarchy. And it was only 100 years ago when governments started to step in and officially define what whiskey was that you began to get a standardization of the spelling and also of the various types and the rules for producing them.
NNAMDISo we tend to spell it with E, the Canadians not so much?
NNAMDIIt's a spirit with a long and storied past. Which country, which culture? Who can lay claim to having the deepest roots when it comes to whiskey?
KOSARMany lay claim, particularly Ireland and Scotland, but the kind of earliest piece of refutable evidence comes from Scotland in 1494 where a Friar John Core (sp?) was recorded as acquiring a whole lot of malt for the purpose of producing distilled spirit. This is what we note currently, but it's entirely possible one day, you know, we'll find in a monastery attic in Ireland something from 1100, which indicates they were making whiskey. There's -- givens rise and fall. The Roman Empire mentions that tribes in Hungry were distilling barley spirit in the 5th century but given, you know, he heard that second or third-hand so we can't really lend a whole of credence to that.
NNAMDIWhen did whiskey first come to the United States and how was it used once it hit our shores?
KOSARIt came with the earliest settlers. Not the Jamestown folks, but not long after that. Once the settlements got a little more stable, you had distilling going on in New York, you had it going down in the Carolinas, you had it going on in many places. The Dutch were involved, Scots were involved, English were involved and, you know, it was a great way to take excess agricultural product and turn it into a high margin item to sale. You take, you know, if you have a 1,000 pounds of extra grain and there's no price for it at the market or the prices are too low, well, heck, distill it, reduce it down to a bunch of jugs of whiskey and then you sell it.
NNAMDIHow about -- it is my understanding in its earliest arrival in the United States, its medicinal value? It was often associated with medicines, was it not?
KOSARYes, that -- the roots for that go back to medieval times, I mean, the whole science of distillation goes -- probably goes back to ancient Alexandria. But the idea was you had these chemists who were messing around, trying to create pure substances, trying to create elixirs and other curatives and distilling booze was one of the things they ended up doing and people took and it often them made feel pretty good and so they attributed healthful qualities to it and, yes, whiskey as a medicinal product, that's something that hung around all the way through Prohibition. During Prohibition, you get in this country, a doctor's prescription to get a bottle of whiskey.
NNAMDIInstead, the Volstead Act had exemptions for religious and medicinal purposes, religious, of course, primarily sacramental wine.
NNAMDIHowever, the use for medicinal purposes may not be as outdated as you think. Here is Nile, in Vienna, Va. Nile, you're on the air, go ahead please.
NILEGood afternoon everybody. I'm a native of Ireland and home of the Jenson's and Bushman's Distillery. I learned at a young age, especially in my household, that if you have a cold coming on in winter, you would take a hot toddy, which is basically some whiskey with boiling water and a spoonful of brown sugar, some cloves and a slice of lemon and you take that before you go to bed at night. You sniff it basically through the (unintelligible) of your nose and the next morning you're like a spring chicken. And it works great so I recommend that to all my neighbors.
NILEI also learned from my father, that whenever he had his whiskey, you should never water your old man's whiskey. And I think America seems to be putting ice in everything, when over in Ireland if you're given some whiskey, it's just in a plain glass and you're given a jug of water and you water it yourself, as opposed to giving it to you with a load of ice and water and I feel that that's taking away from the heart of the whiskey.
NNAMDIYou raise two issues here. I'll direct one to Kevin, the medicinal value of the hot toddy and, Bill, drinking your whiskey straight. But first you, Kevin.
KOSARWell, I'm not sure that there's any sort of scientific studies that have been to find conclusively that hot toddies work, but I will admit that I take them. You know, if you've got a stuffed up head, you know, it's great to drink a steaming beverage. It certainly cleans out the sinuses and the alcohol, as it evaporates through, is also going to further flush things out. And worse comes worst, I mean, at least you're getting a temporary numbing sensation that will maybe make you forget your troubles and allow you to sleep.
NNAMDIAnd Bill, we in this country, we like to put ice and pour other liquids into our whiskey.
THOMASI think it's fairly common for a lot of people to put ice in, but that's definitely not what we promote. We generally always say that you should try your whiskey neat, at room temperature first. Then if you want to add, you know, at Jack Rose, we'll give you a small eyedropper so you can add small increments of water to bring the alcohol content down, maybe open up the nose a bit and enjoy your whiskey. But I think with ice people, you know, should realize that its flavor condenser, it's your palate, it's closing down your palate. So generally what you always want to go is try your whiskey first, add some water.
THOMASBut I'll go even one step further and say, for big proponents of cache drink the whiskey straight from the barrel, right to the bottle and then add the water as you go, as opposed to when the whiskey comes out of the barrel it's very high and they add water to bring it down to what you typically get in the stores. Bring it out at cache strength and I'll put the water in myself.
NNAMDIWe're talking how you take your whiskey. If you're a regular whiskey drinker, what's your favorite way to enjoy the spirit? Call us at 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet at kojoshow. We're discussing whiskey, it's a kind of whiskey primer that we're having today. Prohibition ended almost 80 years ago but we're just now seeing a surge in the production of spirits at small batch distilleries across the country. What's changing, Becky?
HARRISWell, I think that it's kind of -- almost an offshoot of what happened with the microbrewery industry and, you know, to a lot of, in fact, in Loudon, for instance, the winery industry has become very local and very well-supported within that county. That was one of the reasons why we kind of were inspired to start our distillery there was because of the support that this locality, in particular, gives to the wineries and we felt that that would be a good fit for a distillery as well.
NNAMDIWell, in your specific case, it is my understanding that one Scott had a significant influence on your decision to open a distillery. Tell us that story.
HARRISYes, you could say he called my bluff.
NNAMDIScot being your husband.
HARRISMy husband, yes. We actually -- he had this as a dream for quite a number of years and we had visited a number of distilleries and I think it came to a head in about January of 2009. He came to me and said, I really want to do this. And at that point my two children were getting into middle school and I was getting ready to get back into the workforce after being at home. And he was -- he really wanted to do this and I thought -- so I said to him...
NNAMDII'll stop him in his tracks.
HARRISYeah, that's pretty much it. I said, why don't you go write a business plan? And I figured that would be the end of that. But in -- then I guess it was four or five months later, he came back with a plan that...
HARRIS...was feasible. And so then it was kind of like it falls back in my court. And we looked at it and decided that while my labor was free we ought to take advantage of that.
NNAMDIAnd so that's how Scott and Becky happened to start their distillery. But, Bill, what's going on around the country that's causing the smaller distillery store rise in your view?
THOMASI think it's just the increase in market. Everyone is really into trying really good new artisanal products. And when you look at all these young distilleries that are opening up we're getting all these great expressions that hadn't been on the market before. And that's what people are really thirsting for is seeing what can be produced around the country domestically and what is an American whiskey category that I think is going to be the biggest growing category for us. That's the most exciting.
THOMASI think of Scotch and I think of Bourbon, but I think of looking outside the lines and seeing what these people are doing is what's really going to keep everyone energized about spirits.
NNAMDIAnd, Kevin, as a culture, we're all being encouraged to drink less, but that does not necessarily mean that we're not drinking better.
KOSAROh, exactly, yeah. Per capita, alcohol consumption in this country -- I mean, after -- in early America, it was sky high. It was appallingly high. But it went down, down, down over time and then the '60s and '70s and it picked up a little bit, but since then, it's gone down. And what you've seen is distillers have been responding by moving away from the cheaper less interesting products and diversifying and going for a higher margin.
NNAMDISo you should've started much later.
KOSARI should've had a tutor.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call when we come back. We will continue this conversation about whiskey. If the lines are busy, go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about whiskey. We are talking with Kevin Kosar. He is the author of the book "Whiskey: A Global History." He's also editor of the website alcoholreviews.com. Becky Harris is the distiller and co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Lowden County, Va. And Bill Thomas is a whiskey collector and co-owner of Bourbon and Breadsoda and Jack Rose Dining Saloon. It carries over -- they together carry over 1400 kinds of spirits, many of them whiskeys.
NNAMDIBill, you are a self-described hustler. You've owned a variety of other businesses before you opened your first bar. And you were sort of ahead of the trend when you opened Bourbon a few years back. Are you prescient or was this a happy coincidence?
THOMASIt was a little bit of both. I mean, we were -- the funny thing is when we were coming up with the name for Bourbon we had come up with an American themed restaurant where we wanted to do American wines, spirits, beer and comfort food, good American comfort food. And we couldn't think of a name. You would think that this would be obvious but we're racking our brain. There's five of us sitting around. Everybody's drinking and we all said, what are you drinking? And all five people had bourbon in their hand. And it's what? Well, like, eureka. How simple is that.
THOMASSo we were ahead of the curve just 'cause -- but we started out like many of the listeners probably are doing right now. They're tasting what would be the big market ones, your Maker's Mark, your Knob Creek, your Buffalo Trace. And you kind of learn from those and then you just want to expand your knowledge and keep trying all different whiskeys, and from there other categories of whiskey.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jonathan that says, "Bill has done a great job of educating D.C.'s masses as he also slicks their thirst, as have places like Little Miss Whiskey's on H Street. One of the things I'd heard from a bartender at that bar was that bourbon, which has to be from Kentucky, is the only true American alcohol." Is that true, Kevin Kosar?
KOSARI'm not really sure the only true American alcohol. I'm not sure what we mean by that. I mean, bourbon -- the idea of putting a grain spirit in a cask that has been charred on the inside, yeah, that came from here. So I think to that end, yes, it is an American-based product.
NNAMDIAnd this email we got from Erin. "Your caller mentioned that in Ireland you get a small jug of water on the side with your whiskey. It reminds me of a saying from my Irish husband about that. Putting water into a man's whiskey is like kissing his wife. You never know when to stop." Don't know about that. Becky, most of the distilleries on the American whiskey trail are in Tennessee and Kentucky but the liquor has a strong local legacy, it's my understanding. How do you keep that history alive while making spirits for modern tastes?
HARRISWell, we were actually really inspired. I mean, a lot of people may be familiar with the distillery at Mount Vernon that George Washington made rye whiskey. He was, in fact, a very successful distiller. And we kind of felt that our whiskies were going to be a modern reinterpretation of that same kind of spirit. And -- but they are different. The equipment is different. And, trust me, after I tried distilling at Mount Vernon I was very happy to use modern equipment again, as it's much harder to run an old fashioned still than it is a new still.
HARRISBut, you know, I do think tastes change. And so, you know, most -- at the time that George Washington was selling his whiskies he was not selling fine aged spirits in casks. They were much more likely to be an un-aged spirit, as that was what most people were drinking at that time.
NNAMDIYour background is in chemical engineering. How much of the distilling process is science and how much is art?
HARRISThat's always the question. You know, there's -- I like to think of it as being a science that is influenced by the art or the craft of the distiller in the decisions that they make in how you run the equipment. The scientific principles are basically the underlayment. But the decisions made by your distillers, your warehousemen, barrel-ers, all those things are really where you get the art.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Aril in Washington, D.C. Aril, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARILThank you, Kojo, and thanks for taking my call. Good afternoon, guests.
ARILI just have a couple of quick questions. What is the difference between whiskey and cognac? And also what is the difference between spirits and liquor? Is liquor like a trade name? And also was Jack Daniels a real person?
NNAMDIOkay. What's the difference between whiskey and cognac, Kevin?
KOSARWhat it's made from. Cognac is made from grapes. They take grapes, make it into wine, then they distill the wine. Whiskey, on the other hand, is cereal grains. They make it into a beer and then distill the beer. Last question was about Jack Daniels. Yes, yes.
NNAMDIJack Daniels. Was Jack Daniels a real person?
KOSARAbsolutely was very much a real person and was quite an operator.
NNAMDIDon't remember what your middle question was. Aril, what was your second question?
ARILYeah, is -- what's the difference between spirits and liquor, or is liquor a trade name?
NNAMDISpirits and liquor, Kevin.
KOSARThis is kind of a -- I mean, they're synonymous. They're used for the same sort of thing. This is an artifact of the kind of verbal anarchy that's gone on for centuries around this topic. I mean, you go back 300 years and people called anything with alcohol in it, whether it was beer or wine, they might call it liquor. Now traditionally we, you know, use it as a term referring only to distilled spirits.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Aril. We move on now to Mark in Washington, D.C. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKThanks for taking my call. I have recently become aware of my grandfather's appetite for rye whiskey. This would've been early, when they were young men, early 20th century when they were young men. Is that -- rye whisky's gone away. I've been able to find some in D.C. Is rye whiskey making a comeback? And if so, why did it -- is that something smaller distilleries are getting more involved with varieties (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIAnd, Mark, I'm going to give you a bonus because I'm not only going to have Bill and Becky answer that question, Becky's also going to explain how in Catoctin's case rye is made. But first you, Bill.
THOMASI absolutely think from what we're seeing that rye is making a huge comeback. We can't seem to keep it in stock, nor can the people that are distilling it seem to produce enough of it for us to consume. You know, some of the reasons -- I read an article by John Hansell in the Malt Advocate and he was saying that it's sort of a myth. They haven't seen the growth in the industry.
THOMASBut you also have one big producer, being Heaven Hill, producing ryes that don't report 'cause they're privately owned. So we don't really know how much rye they're producing. And they're definitely one of the tops in the market. But there's some great ryes out there and I was just at Tendley (sp?) Liquor right around the corner before I came in here, killing some time, and Rittenhouse Bond is there at $21.99, which is a good price, too. And I would go pick them up before I go over there and pick them up.
HARRISYeah, so, you know, rye is very popular because especially as a small distillery, what you're looking for is differentiation from the large producers. The large -- that's one of the reasons why we chose rye. We also decided to go organic was -- as another product differentiator. Rye has an incredible flavor. It's a really tremendously nice spirit. It's really nice to drink neat as well as in cocktails. And, you know, that's one thing that we've been -- that I've been interested to learn is just how much the different whiskies differ from each other. And it's certainly worth looking at when you're buying your spirits.
NNAMDIWas that rye in this cup?
HARRISYes. This was our -- that was, yes, that was our un-aged rye, our Mosby spirit is what we call it. That's basically the un-barreled whiskey. Kinda like illegal moonshine, if you will.
NNAMDIIt's hot. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. And, Bill, since somebody asked earlier who is Jack Daniels, who -- or shall I say what is Jack Rose?
THOMASJack Rose -- my attorney after about a year-and-a-half of me trying to think of a name, he's like you have 48 hours to come up with a name. And then so finally I was -- we had just done -- the Laird Family, which is one of the earliest producers of applejack in New Jersey had done a seminar at Bourbon maybe six months before that. And it started me to think that here's this great spirit that was distilled in America. It was distilled by George Washington at Mount Vernon.
THOMASAnd being a history major in college, I really wanted something with a historical tie-in and a historical tie-in to spirits. So Jack Rose just seemed -- because that is the -- in the Jack Rose cocktail, applejack is the main ingredient. So we had the Washington tie-in, we had the applejack. And then, you know, we do a very nice what would be considered probably a little more fine dining cuisine. And the dining saloon was added as a way to kind of say, hey we're still a neighborhood place, a great place to just come and have a drink. So that's all inclusive.
NNAMDIIn June, 2003 the Washington Post published an article entitled, "Searching For Jack: Two Guys, One Drink, 60 Bars." It chronicled two writers' quest to find a Jack Rose in a Washington, D.C. bar. They visited apparently countless bars, unsuccessful in finding one, ultimately buying a bottle of applejack for one of the few bartenders they encountered who actually knew how to make one. You knew that story, Bill?
THOMASI did, I did. And it didn't influence me, but I think it's fantastic. And people should seek out the Jack Rose cocktail. And I can think of one place that you can get it.
NNAMDIYeah, I can think of one, too.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mark. Here is Jeremy in Fredrick, Md. Jeremy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEREMYHi. Thanks for taking my call. Great. I had started drinking in college like many people and became a fan of beer and then moved on to bourbon and whiskey. And I discovered I have celiac and I am no longer able to have gluten in my system. I've discovered several really good tasting gluten-free beers. Do you know of any gluten-free bourbons? I'd really like a bourbon.
NNAMDIAny gluten-free bourbons that you are aware of, Kevin?
KOSARNo, no. I'm not sure. I mean, I have this question come in quite frequently. And I usually tell people, you know, please go directly to your doctor. Or if there's a product that you think you're interested in, write directly to the producer itself and say you need to know whether or not it's in there, because you're interested in the product, but at the same time you don't want to have a terrible reaction and end up in the hospital.
NNAMDISo I guess that would be good advice for you too, Jeremy. Thank you very much for your call, Jeremy. Anything else you'd like to know?
JEREMYNo, that covers it. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Got a bad memory of whiskey, but want to give it another try? We can set you down the right road. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Here is Dan in Charlottesville, Va. Dan, your turn.
DANThank you for taking my call, Kojo. I just want to say a special hello to Becky. We love what you and Scott are doing up there in Lowden County.
HARRISOh, thank you.
JEREMYI work for the Virginia Distillery Company. We are building a single malt whisky distillery just south of Charlottesville here in Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd what -- you were about to say? Did I interrupt you?
DANYeah, the future of distilling in Virginia is very bright. I can personally attest to that.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Becky?
HARRISYeah, I would definitely agree. And, yes, we're familiar with you as well. It's great to -- it's nice 'cause the Virginia distilling community is so small that you kind of get to know one another. I know Scott has talked to you guys on several occasions while I'm back running the still. But, yeah, it is -- I think there is a lot of room for growth here in Virginia and that's one of the exciting things. I know nationwide the micro distilling industry -- I've read different places that there's as many as three or four a month micro-distilleries popping up. So I think that it's definitely a time of lots of change.
NNAMDIDan, we're glad we can bring you guys together. Thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you visited a distillery in the U.S. or abroad? If you've got questions about spirits and how they are made give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is James in Washington, D.C. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESGood afternoon, Kojo. Good afternoon there, guests. Thanks for taking my call. I want to give you the experience that I had with (word?) whiskey when we were five or six growing up in Sierra Leone. When we get stuffy nose and chest congestion, our grandmother would warm up some whiskey over the stove and put a spoon of marmite and cod liver oil and mix it all up, give it us to drink. When we do that (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDII can see smoke coming out of your nose after you drink that, but go ahead -- marmite.
JAMESOh, my God.
JAMESAnd when come the next day, you cough, everything was gone.
NNAMDIYeah, I can see smoke coming out of your ears with that one, James. There would be no cold left after that. Thank you for...
JAMESIt'd be like nothing.
JAMESUsed to love it.
NNAMDII was about to say thank you for sharing that experience with us. And hopefully it didn't cause you to go running to your grandmother every week claiming you had a cold. Okay, James.
JAMESYou've got a great show, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here is John in Washington, D.C. John, your turn.
JOHNHi. How is everybody? This is a great program.
JOHNI have a bit of family history, two parts. Number one is a great descendant of my family was part of the whiskey rebellion in Pennsylvania. And then my grandfather -- paternal grandfather was a whiskey runner up and down the eastern shore during the prohibition. So I've got a long history. And we must talk about the importance of Pennsylvania and whiskey production. And I will take my answer or comments off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIKevin, our caller says you must talk about the importance of Pennsylvania and whiskey production. I know he wasn't talking to me.
KOSARYeah, Pennsylvania was huge in whiskey production. As you noted that during George Washington's presidency that's where the whiskey rebellion occurred. It was -- you know, like much of the country it was very rural, enormously expansive area and people got by on farming. And they also got by -- I mean, you never knew how much grain to produce. You just grew as much as you could and hope to sell it. And you get to market and you see prices are low, well, what are you going to do? Well, their response is you distill it.
KOSARAnd when the government decided that it was going to tax the substance, well, such was the whiskey rebellion. Interestingly over time, and for reasons not quite clear to me, Pennsylvania didn't keep up as a kind of big producer of whiskey. That shifted actually over to both Kentucky and Indiana and then kind of ultimately consolidated in Kentucky.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got an email from Zach who says, "I have a bottle of 1968 Order of Merit Canadian Whiskey that is unopened." Is it safe, good to drink? How long will whiskey keep in the bottle if unopened?" Can you help, Bill?
THOMASIt should be. I mean, I've seen -- I probably have 80 bottles from the 1920s, '30s, teens. I've opened up quite a few of them and the whiskey has been very good to good, to if you -- what you see is if the whiskey looks good, clear, it's not cloudy, then you should be good. If it's looking milky or cloudy, then it's turned, it's oxidized, something has gone wrong. But if the whiskey looks as clear -- if you have anything missing in the bottle, chances are it's from evaporation over the last 30, 40 years. But I've opened up bottles that have been 50 percent filled from -- that have been just absolutely perfect.
NNAMDISo you should be in good shape, Zack. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, if you have called, stay on the line, and a lot of you have indeed, making it now better if you're trying to communicate with us to go to our website kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there, or send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are on the line we'll try to get to your call as quickly as possible. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's our conversation about whiskey with Bill Thomas. He's a whiskey collector and co-owner of Bourbon and Breadsoda, and Jack Rose Dining Saloon, which carries over 1400 kinds of spirits, many of them whiskeys. Becky Harris is the distiller and co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Louden County, Virginia, and Kevin Kosar, is the author of the book "Whiskey: A Global History." He's also editor of the website, alcoholreviews.com. Here now is Tom in Baltimore, Md. Tom, you're the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYeah. Thanks for having me on the show. I had a question actually regarding scotch. I get very frequently, with a bunch of friends and we usually bring together a bunch of really fine bottles of scotch. And obviously scotch is, you know, there's a lot of different tastes with scotch, I bring a bottle of Balvenie port with 21-year to this next meeting, and I just wondered what your guys' opinions were on ages, regions, you know, overall, you know, as aging goes and what do they age in and stuff like that, just an opinion I guess.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Bill.
THOMASYou know, in terms of aging, I mean, I think you're bringing a nice bottle to the tasting. I think that Balvenie line, the double wood, the 15-year-old Madeira cask or 17-year-old Madeira cask, 15-year-old rum cask, I think those are all great. I think in terms of like aging, for me, a bourbon sweet spot is probably in that seven to maybe as high as 15. When you're dealing with newly charred oak barrels with bourbon, you know, it imparts a lot of oak and tannin into that, so you have to, you know, go barrel by barrel with that.
THOMASLonger aging does not necessarily mean good when it comes to bourbon when you're dealing with newly charred oak barrels. In Scotland, you're using -- you use cooperage, so you can afford to keep your spirit in the barrel longer and have it impart a positive influence as opposed to with bourbon and the longer duration in the oak.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call, Tom. We got a tweet from Emily asking "What are the guests favorite whiskeys?" Becky?
HARRISWell, I'm partial to Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye obviously. But other than that, I would say that I'm -- I do like a scotch whiskey, and I'm a little more partial to a Speyside type of scotch rather than an Ila.
NNAMDIWell, here's this email we got from Christian in Alexandria, Va. "I understand that aging whiskey is an expensive prospect, but would you ask Ms. Harris, please, whether Catoctin Creek has plans to age its Roundstone Rye for more than two years? I detect sour notes reminiscent of white whiskey in this spirit, and think that it would benefit from further aging. Does her distillery use charred barrels? I applaud her company's sense of adventure, and hope that Catoctin Creek with inspire micro distillers everywhere."
HARRISThank you, that's very kind. Yes. It is a young whiskey, there's no doubt about it. We do actually have a couple experimental barrels of some rye that we're putting aside right now. We really, as I believe Bill had mentioned, was that the rye whiskey has the problem of being in demand enough it's difficult to keep up with. We have that same kind of problem, and so, you know, but actually I'm really fond of our Roundstone. I think it has some different qualities as a young whiskey than some older rye whiskeys, that I actually like our Roundstone a little better than some of the other older ones, especially for cocktails.
NNAMDIYour favorite whiskeys, Kevin Kosar?
KOSARIt's difficult for me to point to any one because I'm very much a seasonal drinker. I mean, when it gets very cold outside, I love to have an extraordinarily robust Ila scotch whiskey. It's just right for the season for me, but I don't want it in the middle of August. Middle of August, I'd be more inclined to something sweeter like a bourbon, and so it goes.
NNAMDIHow about you, Bill?
THOMASYou know, coming from a place that's now Jack Rose, which has a crazy scotch collection, I still consider myself a bourbon guy at heart, and I would have to go with the Willett cash-strength bourbons. But, you know, I have different seasons, you want to drink differently. I was saying we were making with the Roundstone Rye, Manhattans, with using orange bitters and an orange slice, and they were delicious. So, you know, there's -- for me there's no wrong way to drink whiskey, you just drink whiskey.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Erik in Washington D.C. Erik, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERIKHello, Kojo, how are you?
NNAMDII'm well, Erik.
ERIKGood to hear your voice over the phone. I just wanted to mention that I'm a huge fan of (word?). I'm a mixologist. I own three cocktail bars in D.C., and I'm huge fan of all the small (word?) popping up, quality spirits which coming back again in the country is amazing. Catoctin Creek is one of the best. It's local, it is awesome. I wanted to mention that September is actually National Heritage Bourbon month since (word?) and at all three of my bars, I usually have the bartenders mix up some cocktails and stuff, but I really wanted that month to get highlighted that even if you're not a particularly big bourbon drinker, you're a scotch drinker, or some other spirits, to support local spirits.
NNAMDIWell, of course, if you are a very heavy bourbon drinker, you may not realize that this is actually December, and that September passed two months ago. But I know you're promoting people for next year September, correct, Erik?
NNAMDIOkay. Next year September would be good. Thank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from Samuel, Kevin, "Could you touch on Japanese whiskeys? I'd just like to know how legit they are," ask Samuel.
KOSARWell, they are absolutely legit, as Bill could tell you better than I could. I mean, they tend to be modeled upon scotch whiskeys, but they have been banging out incredible quality for at least 50 years.
THOMASAbsolutely. I think -- and one of the main bottles that we sell, I'd say it's in our top 20 out of all the -- out of the 1200 scotches or whatever we have, is Yamazaki 18. It's a great whiskey, and it has had great commercial success here. You also Hibiki, you've got all the Suntory, and you have the -- one of my favorite gifts was Derek Brown, who's been on your program, brought me back a bottle of (word?) malt from Japan when him and Chantal went on their honeymoon, I believe, and that...
NNAMDIThat's funny, he didn't bring me back anything.
THOMASI helped him in a little liquor quandary, but it's been great, and my only problem is it's on my kitchen counter and everybody comes over and has some, and it's down to one finger left in the bottle.
NNAMDIYou stock over 1400 different kinds of whiskey at Jack Rose which also boasts and impressive spirit list when it comes to other types of liquor as well. How on Earth do you keep track of it all?
THOMASWell, you know, it's funny, the next major spirit that we carry is a lot of gins, which obviously we have Cacoctin's gin, and we, you know, Rachel (word?) our bar manager, is in charge of all of that. That is what her job is. My job is whiskey and Steve King in operations, and we just all have our own -- our own thing that we just totally focus on.
NNAMDIThe answer to that, I don't know, ask Rachel. She's the one….
NNAMDIShe's the one who has to keep track of these things.
THOMASShe's more qualified than I am on all the other spirits.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Mark in Montgomery County, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Mark, are you there?
MARKYes, I am. How are you all today?
NNAMDIWe're well. Go right ahead.
MARKWell, I just wanted to say about 10 or 15 years ago, I had a friend who was a lawyer that worked at a law firm that I did a lot of business with, and about every quarter, he would hold a scotch tasting at his offices, and he -- we would come by and there would be invariably at least 20 to 25 different single malt scotches going from very light to very smoky and peaty. And he would serve them in small little brandy snifters and always obviously serve it neat.
MARKBut it struck me that -- I was amazed how many different types of scotches there were, and it was obviously very regionalized, almost county to own had their own distillery, and it struck me as wondering was that the model that a lot of these micro distillers sort of looked and said, you know, if they can -- if they can do it Scotland and have almost like a counter -- or a county or regional approach to sprit making, that that model could fit in this country?
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Becky?
HARRISOh, I think that's absolutely true and, you know, and when you look at a lot of the scotches, even though there is like say the Speyside Ila there's a lot of variation within those regions as well that Speyside whiskey is not necessarily the same from distillery to distillery and I think that's going to be the case here as we come back from, you know, with more distilleries.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mark. We got an email from Josh. "Can your guests talk about the use of peat in scotch whiskeys? There's an interesting chemistry behind it, and the measurement of peatiness is a known science. I enjoy Laphroaig, but what other ultra peaty whiskeys would your guests recommend?" Bill?
THOMASLaphroaig, I think, is great, and I -- and the one that you're probably drinking normally is Laphroaig 10 cask -- the Laphroaig 10. Get the Laphroaig 10 cask strength, it's got all that smoke and brine and peat with these great sweet notes. It's an amazing whiskey. In that region, the Ardbeg 10 is one of my favorites. The Lagavulin 12 cask strength is amazing. The stuff that Jim McEwan is doing at Bruichladdich with the Port Charlottes, those are musts.
THOMASSo I would definitely look at any of those distilleries, but I think all of the Ila distilleries, which is about eight, are absolutely amazing
NNAMDIHere's Anna in Bowie, Md. Anna, your turn.
ANNAWonderful. My mom was diagnosed with celiac almost 20 years ago, and we thought she couldn't have anything made from wheat, rye, or barley, but we were told by the Celiac Association that the distilling process actually removes the gluten from the alcohol, so it's actually safe for people, and of course, you should check with your doctor and all that, but it is, from what we know, unless something's been added back in, it's safe.
NNAMDISo Kevin, check with your doctor, but Anna's understanding is that the distilling process removes all the gluten. Anna, thank you very much for sharing that with us.
NNAMDIOn now to Ron in Shepherdstown, W. Va. Ron, your turn.
RONThank you for taking my call, Kojo. I actually -- a previous caller pretty much asked the same question. I have like a 45-year old bottle of Rebel Yell sour mash that's been unopened, has the safe seals on it. I just wondered if it was still good, and it is clear and looks quite good, quite honestly.
NNAMDISo Bill, okay?
THOMASAbsolutely. Absolutely. Go ahead, and whiskey should be drunk, so go ahead and pop that sucker open and have a drink -- have a dram.
RONAnd one other quick question.
RONIsn't Schnapps a form of whiskey?
NNAMDIIs Schnapps a form of whiskey, Kevin?
KOSARNo, it's not.
NNAMDIThat I guess answers it in one word. No. Here's John in Alexandria, Va. Hi, John.
JOHNHi, how you doing?
JOHNI -- yes. I visited George Washington's personal distillery, and found the distillation process very interesting, but something that I have kind of a lingering question, it seems, you know, the distillation process purifies the mash, you know, and I know the water all go through, but obviously if you're getting different flavors from corn or rye or whatever is used in the mash, there must be some aspects of these materials to come through the distillation process, and I'm just curious about how might work.
NNAMDIBecky, any idea?
HARRISYou know, there's a lot of flavor cogeners that kind of go through the distillation process and influence the alcohol's taste, so it's definitely -- and that also has influenced those particular chemical components also interact with the wood in different ways, which is why rye whiskey is aged differently that bourbons age differently, than barley whiskeys as well.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. Bill, we talked earlier about the 1400 different kinds of whiskey and who keeps track of them, but it's my understanding that you've got help from a collector with an even larger collection than your own. Who is Harvey Frey?
THOMASHarvey Frey is maybe the most knowledgeable man on scotch in the United States and even I asked one of the distillers over from Scotland, I -- one time I said, is he the most knowledgeable guy you've ever met, and he said, he is, absolutely. I mean, the guy knows all the minutiae, but Harvey is -- I like to describe him as Willie Nelson meets Santa Claus in his appearance. He's an amazing intellect and he is a just wealth of knowledge.
THOMASAnd being able to -- and what helped spur Jack Rose's growth is him and another gentleman, Roberto (word?), asked me to join their scotch group, and being able to taste 7,000 bottles that he has at his house, sit down and do 25 expressions of a particular distillery is something that most people just -- it's like having access to the Library of Congress. You just -- it is. That's what -- it's the Library of Congress of whiskey at Harvey's house, and it's the most amazing thing you've ever seen. You think Jack Rose is impressive? Go to Harvey's house.
NNAMDIThanks a lot, Harvey. Here's Lucas in Montgomery County, Maryland. Lucas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LUCASHi. I'm a long-time listener, first-time caller. I'm a recently graduated college student, and I've dabbled a bit in Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, but when you get those types of bottles, you know, to get a good one, I'm spending $60, $80, and I just wondering if there was any kind of bargain, you know, bargain-type single malt scotch or something like that I can get into, you know, maybe $30 tops.
THOMASWow. You know, my problem is I buy wholesale. So no one...
NNAMDIHasn't bought a single bottle in years.
THOMASSo buying retail, that's a tough one. You know what, I would have to say there's some great -- if you live here in the District, you know, Schneider's, Ace Beverage, go see one of those guys over there, and they'll be able to steer you in the right direction. They have very knowledgeable staffs.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. Our telephonic expert, A.C. Valdez, is an old-fashioned kind of guy. He plays second (unintelligible) in a band, so he would really like to know how to make a good old fashioned.
HARRISI'll throw that over...
NNAMDIKevin, you got 10 seconds.
KOSARTen seconds. With care and good ingredients. Don't use anything cheap, pestle it as much as you can to get everything mixed in, and that's all I can get in 10 seconds.
NNAMDIThanks. You helped to keep our phones working. Kevin Kosar, is the author of "Whiskey: A Global History," and editor of the website, alcoholreviews.com. Kevin, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBecky Harris is the distiller and co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Louden County, Virginia. Becky, thank you for joining us.
HARRISThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Bill Thomas is a whiskey collector and co-owner of Bourbon and Breadsoda, and Jack Rose Dining Saloon, which carries over 1400 kinds of spirits, many of them whiskeys. Thank you for joining us, Bill.
THOMASGreat, thank you.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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