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Monday, March 2, 2015

Zen and the Art of Micro-distillation

In his seminal work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig argues for the existence of something called Quality. There's such a thing as Quality in this world, he says, and it's real, not style. According to Pirsig, pursuit of Quality is the impetus for all human endeavor, and the consequence of this effort, what we call art. In this case, the Art of Micro-distillation.


Like many who have contemplated the Path to Enlightenment in terms of their daily existence, Pirsig also hints to the fact that there is as much value in the practice of art as there is in actually creating it. The real beauty of any art, whether in practice or form, is that it serves as a lens, a mirror upon which we can reflect. A person who sets out to practice the Art of Micro-distillation may not initially intend this practice as zen, but as they develop mindfulness through the exercise of their craft they will undoubtedly begin to strip away the trappings, the gilding that is employed to mask the absence of Quality. Through practice, and an unyielding quest for Quality, they distill their art to its essential form, that of pure spirit.  


Inviting as that sounds, those of us not fortunate enough to be micro-distillers need not run out and become one. Rather we may rejoice in the inspiration of their example and seek similar attainment through our own pursuit of Quality. In craft, whether by practicing our own or supporting that of others, we can discover a personal path to Quality, the virtue of which is not its only reward.


Practicing a craft lifestyle is itself a manner of such pursuit. It involves developing awareness and making conscious, deliberate choices in order to bring about outcomes that align with a particular set of values, then providing space to appreciate not only those outcomes, but the process of attaining them. It is a manner of living that is based on the contemplation of our relationship with the goods and services we attain, not merely the consumption of them. It is about asking yourself “why am I buying this?” and finding contentment in the answer.


The craft lifestyle also serves to reestablish our connection with natural orders, our relationship with our community and our environment. It gets us thinking about where products come from and who made them, and the implications of the process of their creation. Craft culture is not content with simply taking a box off a shelf and blindly trusting what is written on it. Those who practice a craft lifestyle seek Quality, and will not accept a mere assurance of it. It is something they must determine for themselves.

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. - Robert Pirsig




Friday, February 27, 2015

Daily Pour

KOVAL Distillery - Four Grain Whiskey


The Four Grain is distilled from a mash bill of oat, malted barley, rye, and wheat. This whiskey is aged in heavily charred new oak barrels from Minnesota and bottled single barrel at 94 proof. The four grains define its depth with a banana nose, creamy palate, and spicy finish. Only the “heart cut” of the distillate, no “heads” or “tails.” Grains sourced from a local organic farmer collective in the Midwest.

Single Barrel. Unfiltered. Heart cut. Organic and Kosher.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2nd Annual ACSA Medal Winners Announced

On Sunday night of the 2nd Annual ACSA Convention and Vendor Trade Show in Austin, Texas, after Tito Beveridge shared the story of his now famous vodka over a catered dinner, the American Craft Spirits Association awarded medals for this year's annual Craft Spirits Competition, then hosted an attendees-only tasting.

I only know this based on what I saw in pictures and some pretty rough faces the following morning, but it looked to me like one hell of a good time.

You can share in this experience by picking up some of these award-winning spirits and hosting a tasting of your own. Best In Class Winners for each category include:

Whiskey:

Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling, San Antonio, TX
.36 Single Barrel Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Gin: 

New Holland Brewing and Distilling, Holland, MI
Barrel Aged Knickerbocker

Rum: 

Allegheny Distilling, Pittsburgh, PA
Maggie's Farm Queen's Share Double Barrel

Brandy: 

King's County Distillery and Brooklyn Winery, Brooklyn, NY
Brandy

Liqueurs & Distilled Spirits Specialty: 

Blueberry Liqueur

Vodka: 

Huber's Starlight Distillery, Starlight, IN
Starlight Vodka

The complete list of winners is available HERE.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Liquid Romance at 1st Annual Texas on the Rocks

Let me be the first to say that I, like many, knew nothing about the micro distilling community. I suppose that sounds a bit discrediting, given that this article is published on a website that focuses mainly on that particular aspect of craft culture. So the Texas on the Rocks craft spirit tasting, held this past Valentine’s Day, was an amazing learning experience for me; and overall, I had a blast.



I came into the event expecting it to be heavily politicized with the distillers competing against one another in some bacchanalian shootout. I was hoping to report from a war zone. Tribes of shiners going shot for shot with one another, much akin to the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry. I wanted to see blood. I had checked in far too early, taken note of the giant teepee in the corner of the Austin Music Hall, and found a smattering of Comanche garb. Boy was I excited to see these legendary warriors of the Texas plains.

This was it! Gun powder was going to flavor the air. Smoke was going to billow from the hall. Blood was going to coat the walls and drip from the ceiling, and I was going to be standing in the middle of it all. Spur clad cowboys were armed with rifles and bullwhips. Obsidian spears and warhawks were racked at the Comanche camp. It was set to be 1840 all over again. I was so excited for the savagery that veins were bulging from my neck in vigorously eager anticipation.

Six o’clock rolls around, and I can’t wait to see who fires the first shot. I surveyed the chaos but all I found were people shaking hands and expressing joy. Turns out, there were no savage blood feuds requiring righteous retaliation. The evening was rather cordial. It struck me as an Appalachian family reunion, where everyone brought their own homemade liquor to the potluck.

Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers played host to the event, and put out the best Texas bred bourbon to cross my lips. Treaty Oak had the prettiest gin at the dance. It was aged in bourbon barrels. Somehow they had found a way to make straight gin taste good.



The vodkas had a solid showing as well. Deep Eddy was on hand. Cinco Vodka out of San Antonio was a nice surprise. I had never heard of them, and their product was remarkable. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of vodka. But the first vodka I tried changed my whole perspective on the drink. Tito’s Vodka was incredible. So smooth that it feels like you’re drinking some crazy non-Newtonian fluid. Tito’s was the first vodka to really rock my world. And fitting in with Austin’s health conscious approach to indulgence, it’s distilled from corn. THAT SHIT IS GLUTEN-ASS-FREE!!!



Growing up in the punk scene of Houston, I’d developed a taste for cheap, shitty whiskey, and tequila. Redemption’s Riverboat Rye captures the essence of those glorious days without sacrificing any flavor. It’s a young whiskey, aged for only a year; but goddamn is it good. As for the tequila, you just need to remember three numbers: 5-1-2. Distilled in Mexico, and bottled in Austin; this shit destroys its overpriced competitors. At this price, you hardly feel guilty about pounding a bottle with your aberrant cohorts in just a few tips. Fuck Patron. Tequila 512 is under twenty five dollars a bottle and tastes better.




Lately I’ve grown up, and grown fond of mezcal. As Reverend Horton Heat put it, loco gringos like a party. Catmezcal is definitely a party all on its own. It’s as if a scotch and a tequila made some terrible decisions together, and birthed the perfect balance between what you’ve come to enjoy from both of those worlds. Catmezcal Anejo is savory and smoky, with a nice bite and a smooth finish. I could drink this stuff until my blood type was sangria.



All told, Texas on the Rocks was the perfect introduction to the world of Texas craft spirits. The vendors were friendly and informative, and the crowd rather congenial, given that it was a room full of Texans with access to as much booze as they could drink. I can only assume that, like any good whiskey, this preeminent tasting event will only improve with time.

Michael R. McBride is a former punk from Houston, Texas. He now spends his time operating as a freelance writer in that bastion of iniquity known as Austin.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrating the Return of a Pennsylvania Whiskey Legacy

Other than what transpires around 2 a.m. on a summer’s night at many Cape Region bars, the actual Whiskey Rebellion occurred in the 1790s in response to an exorbitant tax on alcoholic beverages. Distiller Phillip Wigle was one of the instigators of the rebellion when he expressed his displeasure with the tax - and the tax collector - in a particularly physical manner. The Whiskey Rebellion ultimately pitted Western Pennsylvania distillers against 13,000 troops led by George Washington. So much for last call!
Wigle (pronounced “wiggle”) Distillery keeps Philip’s legacy (and his reportedly effective right hook) alive in Pittsburgh’s Strip District with local, organic and heirloom grains evaporated into made-from-scratch spirits. Last week, Michy’s Relaxed Dining chef/co-owner Richard Davis matched Wigle Distillery course-by-course in the made-from-scratch department, and I was pleased to be a part of that delectable showdown co-sponsored by Karen Clayton from Bacchus Importers LTD and our own Teller Wines, a landmark liquor store in Lewes.
A pre-prandial reception was properly lubricated with hot apple cider spiked with Wigle’s Landlocked Spice rum distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey. We were particularly pleased when Rob Bagley (Michy’s bar boss and mixologist extraordinaire) offered us seconds.

Needless to say, it took them a while to coax us into our seats, but the effort was worth it, as Davis outdid himself with Asian-spiced lamb skewers accompanied by a bracing carrot and chile slaw. Bagley kept up with his boss by delivering a Wigle rye Manhattan. A bright red Campari ice cube floated therein, and as it melted, the cocktail morphed into a Boulevardier (like a Negroni, but without the gin). Nice touch, barkeep!

One of the highlights of the event was the ongoing patter of Wigle’s Wes Shonk promoting the distillery and his hometown of Pittsburgh. “We make in a year what Jim Beam makes in a day,” announced the properly bow-tied Wes. Every course sparked an interesting story recounted in an upbeat and engaging style. As plates of chipotle-encrusted beef tenderloin atop sweet potato puree began to arrive at the tables, Rob Bagley celebrated his love of cocktail history with a delicious whiskey sour (made with Wigle’s organic whiskey and rosemary lavender bitters).
As if that weren’t enough, Wigle’s Ginever, freshly squeezed lime, rosemary simple syrup and those bitters arrived at the table in the form of a Gimlet (already achieving notoriety as early as 1928). Ginever is the old-time Dutch term for the original form of gin. For the first 600 years, gin was made from whiskey in a copper pot still.

The invention of the modern industrial still, which produces vodka very efficiently, shifted the world gin market from this original, expensive-to-make Dutch-style gin to the British-style, vodka-based gin that lines the shelves today. Inspired by a 19th century Pennsylvanian distiller’s recipe, Wigle is singlehandedly working to bring back the copper pot back to the art of gin making.
Out of the fog of organic distillates and craft bitters appeared a homemade dessert created by Davis himself. At the risk of engaging in hyperbole (or has that ship sailed?), it was one of the most ridiculously good bread puddings I have ever tasted. This marriage of white chocolate, whiskey and a croissant was certainly made in heaven. Bar boss Bagley stepped up to the plate with a Wigle Mocha Porter Whim Sazerac.

Not unlike the one-off special-occasion beers offered by our local brewmeisters, a Whim is the same thing in the world of distilled spirits. This one-of-a-kind concoction is distilled from the ingredients that make up a dark, chocolaty porter. The dessert theme was echoed with a few drops of Wigle’s mole bitters and a glass washed with chocolate liquor.
Last week’s Wigle tasting at Michy’s Relaxed Dining was the quintessential dinner and a show, spotlighting the engaging humor and energy of young Wes, the chemical creativity of mixmaster Rob Bagley, the kitchen sleight-of-hand displayed by Richard Davis and the perpetually welcoming demeanor of his wife and restaurant namesake, Michelle. A good time was had by all.
Teller Wines’ Kevin and Catherine Hester (l-r), Wigle Distillery’s Wes Shonk, Michy’s top barkeep Rob Bagley and Bacchus Importers’ Karen Clayton celebrate a job well done and a meal well eaten. (That’s kitchen magician Richard Davis in the background between Rob and Karen.)
The contributor of this pairings dinner, The Rehoboth Foodie, gives readers a sneak peek into the inner workings of the Delaware beach culinary scene, from farm to table and everything in between. He can be reached at bob@rehobothfoodie.com.



Reprinted with permission from the Cape Gazette newspaper, Lewes, Delaware: "The Business of Eating" by Bob Yesbek: 2/6/15

Friday, February 13, 2015

MicroShiner Samples Texas on the Rocks

Today the MicroShiner crew will be jet setting into the heart of Texas for the 1st annual Texas on the Rocks craft spirits festival at the Austin Music Hall. TOTR will kick off the American Craft Spirits Association’s annual conference, being held January 15 and 16 at the Hyatt Regency Town Lake.

More than 1,500 guests are expected for a Valentine's Day event filled with dancing, spirits and liquid romance. More than 40 craft distilleries – from Texas and beyond – will be hosting tables at the event, providing small samples of craft spirits and exquisite cocktails. Guests can meander through 2 full floors of craft culture, learning how these artisan spirits are produced, discovering new cocktails, and exploring the stories behind each craft distiller.

Craft distilleries on hand include Ironroot Republic, Treaty Oak, Balcones Distilling, Garrison Brothers, Tito’s, Dulce Vida Spirits, Yellow Rose Distilling, Deep Eddy, Rebecca Creek, Cinco Vodka, Hill Country Distillers, Firestone & Robertson, Revolution Spirits, Bone Spirits, and your guide to the world of craft spirits … MicroShiner!

While attendees meet the makers, exciting entertainers, dancers, singers and Texas talents will perform on the main stage, along with two-step dance teams, cowboy poets, and dueling fiddlers.

Texas on the Rocks will provide an original and memorable Valentine’s Day night out for any lover of fine craft spirits. There is a Texas Spirits Cocktail Throw-down VIP Pre-Party, live music, live entertainment, and a VIP Tito’s Vodka breakfast taco bar (from Maudie’s) and Bloody Mary post-party. Event times are as follows:

· VIP Texas Spirits Cocktail Throwdown Pre-Party: 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM

· Main Tasting Event: 7:30 PM to 10:30 PM

· VIP Tito’s Vodka breakfast taco bar and Bloody Mary post-party: 10:30 PM to Midnight

The VIP pre-party will feature a nacho bar catered by Chuy’s and a competition between 5 of Austin’s most talented mixologists to find the next big Texas Premium Cocktail. The winning cocktail will be selected by the guests after all five entries have been tasted.

Tickets to the main tasting event, VIP pre-party and Tito’s after party can be purchased here.

You can get a peek inside and follow our adventures via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Catoctin Creek Releases Limited Edition Rested Gin

Like many, we are in love with Catoctin Creek, and as you may know, their products have been receiving rave reviews, including having Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye "Cask Proof" named the #7 whisky in the grain whisky spirits category at the 3rd Annual Wizards of Whisky World Awards.

Whisky accolades aside, something we love as much as their spirits is Catoctin Creek's approach to the process. Everything they do seems to be imbued with same sense of effortless innovation and unassuming elegance. As a whole, Catoctin embodies the essence of craft, and we have no reason to expect anything less than more of the same from this latest release.

Here's their recent announcement:

Catoctin Creek is pleased to announce the limited release of our Pearousia Barrel "Old Tom" style Watershed Gin. We took our regular, award-winning Watershed Gin, and set some aside for a time to rest in a re-used Pearousia pear brandy barrel. The result is a golden, rich, and surprisingly fruity gin which gleams in those cocktails made for Old Tom gins, like the famous Ramos Gin Fizz.*

"This entire product is the work of our brand ambassador, Chad Robinson," said Scott Harris, founder of the distillery. "Chad came to us with the idea, and begged us to reserve a couple spent Pearousia barrels for him. We filled them with gin, let them rest, and when the time was right--and the flavors were at their peak--we pulled the gin from the barrel to bottle it. The result is very exciting!"

There will only be 344 bottles available for sale, which will be evenly divided between Catoctin Creek Distillery's tasting room, and the Maryland / Washington DC market served by Bacchus Importers, Ltd. "Obviously, we expect this to sell out very quickly," added Mr. Robinson. "If you're in the DC area, I'll be pouring tastings at Weygandt Wines in Cleveland Park on March 14th."

At the Distilery:
  • Available for purchase to VIP members through March 14.
  • "Ramos Gin Fizz" Shake Off Event -- For VIP members, a cocktail party celebrating the new gin with classic cocktail fun!
  • Available for purchase to the general public
At Weygandt Wines in DC:
  • Chad will be pouring tastings at Weygandt Wines with the new gin, among other Catoctin Creek products
At Hank's on the Hill in DC:
  • Launch party at Hanks on the Hill from, featuring a $5 happy hour punch and special cocktail menu at $10 apiece.

The new Catoctin Creek Pearousia Barrel "Old Tom" Watershed Gin will only be available in limited release, and each bottle is hand numbered. Look for this and more exciting releases to come in 2015.



Ramos Gin Fizz

3 oz Catoctin Creek "Old Tom" Watershed Gin
1/2 oz parts fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
4 oz cream
1 egg white
3 dashes Orange flower water
2 drops Vanilla extract
Soda water

Pour all ingredients except soda in a mixing glass, dry shake (no ice) for two 
minutes, add ice and hard shake for another minute.

Strain into a highball glass without ice, top with soda.