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Friday, February 12, 2016

#DrinkingMusic: Nishal

Back on Bourbon Street is a smoothed out jazz track from South African emigre Nishal that reminds us that a piano and a melody is really all you ever need. The piece is from the upcoming album "Sounds Like Envy" and is arranged in a classic jazz style reminiscent of Big Easy musicians from the 70s and 80s, hence the name.

Now when we say this track is smooth, we mean smooth. Walking into your favorite joint, you probably wouldn't even notice it playing, it's that smooth. It's the kind of song that doesn't impose itself on the moment, it simply fits it. With a whiskey on ice, at your usual corner table, Back on Bourbon Street will have you feeling that everything is right with the world, without really knowing why.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Atelier is Japanese for Netflix

Atelier is French for “studio”, which makes it an apropos title for a web series about a bespoke lingerie maker, as the term lingerie is itself derived from the French word for linen. All this francophonie influence could almost be considered de rigueur for a program based in the decidedly French world of haute couture. The twist with Atelier is the fact that it is set in Japan.

This Netflix creation, produced in association with Japanese conglomerate Fuji, is an example of the video streaming service’s new push toward creating native content for its now global audience. With Netflix reaching nearly every nation on earth, this Japanese-language series is a whole new type of cross-cultural programming designed for the world’s first global Internet TV network.

The storyline revolves around President Nanjo’s atelier in Ginza, where she and her staff design and create bespoke lingerie for an upscale clientele. Mayuko is a girl from the country with a fetish for fabrics, who along with friend Yuri, seeks to carve a niche for herself in the hierarchy of one of the most luxurious fashion districts in the world.

Cocktails and spirits abound in this study of Japanese craft culture, with exquisitely ritualized preparations of Nanjo-sensei’s afternoon coffee enjoying time in the spotlight as well. Routinely, the two young women meet at their favorite cocktail bar, a classy Tokyo speakeasy, to commiserate about the challenges of acclimating to the exacting world of Japanese high fashion. Here, as with much that is depicted, American viewers are presented with a situation that appears vastly foreign. None of the regulars in the place ever attempt to hit on the girls, instead maintaining a refreshingly respectful, and even fatherly, manner. Anywhere in the US, two attractive single women slamming drinks at a bar would ostensibly attract sharks like blood in the water.

The beauty of Atelier for a foreign viewer is found in this examination of Japanese etiquette, particularly its workplace culture. While to a Japanese national the show may seem more akin to The Office, to an average American the cultural landscape it portrays is wholly unfamiliar, challenging assumptions about our own deportment. For those willing to look past the subtitles, Atelier offers a charming, sincere, and often quite humorous alternative to the familiar American, or even European, lens.

Equally as important as the show’s individual merits is that with it Netflix has opened the floodgates for an almost endless array of programming aimed at providing its global viewership with a cultural insider’s perspective. Rather than the caricatures that often dominate non-native productions, Atelier is presented in the same light that the culture sees itself. Considering the appeal of this one, it isn’t hard to imagine, as Netflix chief of content Ted Sarandos put it, “great scripted series about contemporary life” in any part of the world.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

@timwenger1: Taking a Look at the Bright Side

For many years I have thought of New Year’s Eve as being like a good, long shower. The kind where you stand there under the stream of water, not washing or rubbing or squeezing a bottle, but refreshing yourself internally. Replaying the previous night in your head over and over, picking out what you did wrong; analyzing it and telling yourself today is going to be different. ‘Today, I have a plan.’

Then, without knowing where the realization came from, I had a thought that put the shower analogy into a better light. What it really comes down to is that New Year’s Eve represents the very essence of being human. Of taking what you’ve done, saving it in a folder, then cleansing the pallet and starting over again. Of another chance to prove that you can grow from your experiences. And, perhaps most important, of moving on and toasting a new beginning.

It also offers a chance to look on the bright side. This is easy to do when looking at craft culture. In our sphere, micro-distilleries are emerging from the shadow of craft beer to become a destination in themselves. Take a look at this map.

The bright side can be harder to focus on in the broader spectrum, but it is there. The Paris climate talks represent a solid step in the right direction in addressing climate change. Given the gridlock that dominates domestic politics, seeing a horde of world leaders sign off on what should be remembered as the biggest story of the year, is in itself a huge story.

While many cities across the United States are staring straight into the barrel of gentrification, there is at least a speck of beauty to the changes- long empty warehouses are being converted into havens for artists, clothiers, and a swarm of other businesses fueled by a thriving generation of young entrepreneurs. So much so that the entire concept of the office is being redefined to suit the modern worker (there is even booze in many of these places. I officed at Green Spaces, a coworking space in downtown Denver over the summer and on my first day there was excited to see a stocked kegerator near the coffee machine.)

A big part of the appeal of craft culture and the ongoing remodel of the modern worplace is seeing the work that you do pay off for yourself in multiple ways beyond a standard salary. Rory Donovan, one of three founders of Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, Colorado, has been motivated by this idea since the distillery began operations on New Year’s Day, 2004. “I’m blessed in that the harder I work, the better my business will do,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to call your own shots once in a while.”

The idea to turn those metaphorical shots into liquid ones was devised by Donovan and friends Dave Thibodeau and Bill Graham (who also happen to be two of the three partners of Ska Brewing Company). 

“We got invited to a distillers workshop put on by Kris Berglund at Michigan State University in 2004,” Donovan said. Berglund, a Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at the university, pitched the conference on the concept of running a distillery and the three drew up a business plan on a cocktail napkin later that night. “We ended up at the Holiday Inn bar putting together a business plan that would have had us retired in our third year, very wealthy.”

Unlike Ska, which is located on the outskirts of Durango, Colorado, far from a major highway or city, Peach Street’s Palisade location is near a) an interstate highway and b) western Colorado’s biggest town, Grand Junction. But the biggest reason for their choosing Palisade was the town’s fruit production. Palisade is right in the heart of Colorado’s wine country and perhaps the most fertile area of the state for farming. They are smack-dab in the middle of the high desert, where the polar complexion of hot days and frigid nights produce some of the best tasting fruit anywhere in the world.

“A big part (of Peach Street’s location) was it being on I-70,” Donovan said. “The primary reason was to be where the fruit was, where the raw materials were coming from. We were kind of looking to ride some coattails with the wineries, and people already coming to the area for that.”

Despite fruit surrounding them on all sides, the hearts of Donovan, Thibodeau, and Graham yearned with the desire to make whiskey. Start-up capital for the business came from the three of them ponying up as much as they could and borrowing the rest from Thibodeau’s family. Initially, they made a vodka (Goat Artisan Vodka, their premiere product), as well as some grappas and other experimental liquors. The whiskey needed to age, so Donovan and the crew had to produce batches of other spirits to keep the revenue stream flowing. Goat was the first spirit I tasted from Peach Street, back in college when I lived in Durango. “We needed to have some sort of variety sooner than later because we couldn’t afford to operate for two or three years without selling anything,” Donovan said. “So we made the vodka, and some grappas and stuff. The following season, we crushed it and we got all kinds of cherries and apricots. That gave us a bump while we were waiting on the aged products.”

A gin followed the vodka. Their line now includes two brandies, two gins, a bourbon, a grappa, a 100% blue agave nectar tequila, and in honor of their location right next to an orchard, an Eau Di Vie. Moving forward, Donovan and his team are going to be stepping it up even further. “We have a little still, and we run the thing ragged,” Donovan said. ““I’m proud as hell of the progress we’ve made. It’s work, man. When you pick something you love and make it your job, it changes. I sure as shit don’t make whiskey on my day off. But I’m proud of what we’ve created. But we just got a new still that is basically going to increase our capacity by five times. That’s pretty big time.” 

Look for a full marketing rebrand from Peach Street Distillers in 2016, improving the continuity of their imagery and top-of-mind awareness of their product line. Learn more about their products and check out their spot-on bird’s eye map of Palisade at

Tim Wenger is a Denver-based microshiner, journalist, musician, and avid snowboarder. Check in with him at @timwenger1 and catch more of his work at Colorado Music Buzz, Snowboard Colorado, and his weekly talk show on

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#TastingNotes: Crafting a Virginia Whiskey Tradition

The beginning of each  new year always provides an excellent opportunity to take an assessment of both ourselves and the world in which we live. For patrons and practitioners of craft, the message to the spirits community in 2016 is clear: Our time is now! Artisanal distillers, brewers, fermenters and farmers have been pouring into the craft space from all walks of life, and the synergy of their passion and personal experience has exploded into a staggering wealth of unique and re-imagined libations. Navigating this new landscape of nearly endless options may seem daunting, but there is a sound strategy for success: start with something you love and see which new wrinkle suits your fancy.

In America's original colony, two acclaimed whiskey producers are doing just that, adding nuanced layers to a couple of traditional favorites.

Perched above the sleepy streets of small town Marion, Virginia, lies the Schumaker family farm, home of Appalachian Mountain Spirits and the Virginia Sweetwater Distillery. Brainchild of founder Scott “Mash” Schumaker, this small-scale production facility evolved out of Scott's foray into harvesting organic energy from potatoes, along with his deep appreciation for the centuries-old moonshining tradition of this lush, mountainous region. Earning awards and praise for his Sweetwater Moonshine and War Horn Whisky, Mr. Schumaker has recently unveiled an extraordinary fusion between the hills and hollers of his Appalachian backyard and the highlands of his Scottish heritage: Revelations Single Malt Corn Whisky.

Early Gaelic settlers were drawn to the area that would become Marion because of its similarities to their Highland homes, and Scott has drawn on those roots to imagine what a traditional Scotch distiller might come up with if tasked with using the local Virginian grains. The result is a Red Oak-smoked, 75% Corn / 25% Rye Whisky that has been aged in Bourbon barrels for three years and released in a very limited quantity. In the glass, Revelations holds a deep, amber hue and sweet, smoky nose that is somewhat reminiscent of caramelized bacon. As it meets the palate, the single malt feels smooth, almost syrupy, lingering low in the mouth and warming the back of the throat with each satisfying sip. At 95 proof, that heat is certainly potent, but the burn never detracts from the enjoyment of the Whisky, and the overall effect is to slice right through the line between an excellent Bourbon and a classic Scotch.

At the other end of the Commonwealth, and a fair bit closer to sea level, lies the Loudoun Valley and Purcellville, Virginia, base of operations for Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. Though the region is widely known as “D.C.'s Wine Country”, founders Becky and Scott Harris have carved quite a niche for themselves as whiskey producers, opening the first legal distillery in the county since Prohibition. With a strong focus on using only the highest quality ingredients, Scott and Becky's flagship offering, Roundstone Rye, is both organic and kosher, a 100% Rye Whisky. This purity results in a powerful nose that permeates the skull with expected verdant tones, accompanied by a trace of citrus.

Distilled at 92 proof, Roundstone is not overpowering through the lips, though the vapors from the alcohol rise sharply, as if compelled to fill the sinuses, creating the need for a hearty exhale after most sips. This acute, airy quality of the Rye is familiar, but heightened, perhaps due to the exceptional caliber of components or possibly from Becky Harris' influence as a seasoned chemical engineer. Whatever the cause, the Catoctin Roundstone's profile comes across as nearly too clean, carrying many of the grassy, even floral notes of a Rye, but not quite capturing the body and presence of an elite offering.

Returning to the Highlands of Marion, however, in Revelations Single Malt one does find that depth and richness at its core. The earthy undertones of toffee and molasses are complemented by hints of smoky vanilla, imbued by the Red Oak firing. The silky smooth Bourbon/Scotch hybrid is a true prize, especially in such short supply, and one can only hope that Mr. Schumaker sees fit to continue the line. While his operation may lack the polish and production capacity of its more metropolitan neighbors, “Mash’s Revelation” is head and shoulders above its Virginian peers.

Contributor Ian Gregory is a product of the 80's and a Tulane graduate, with a BA in History. Born and raised in Manhattan, NYC, he has called New Orleans home for the last 12 years.

With many nights behind a bar under his belt, Ian has appeared in the Where Y'at Best Bartenders of New Orleans Guide on 3 separate occasions. Now writing spirit reviews for MicroShiner, he doesn't have a twitter handle, but feel free to find him on Facebook 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What is a MicroShiner, Anyway?

Actually, “who is a microshiner?” might be more apt. Because when it comes down to it, what we’re talking about here are people. People who share a common perspective.

In the most basic sense, a microshiner is anyone who enjoys micro-distilled or handcrafted spirits. But that is an oversimplification, a mere tip of the iceberg, because this affinity for craft is not at the heart of the matter. It is actually a manifestation of something that runs much deeper, an outward expression of the microshiner’s character and motivations.

Setting spirits aside, a microshiner is a person of the highest order. Think James Bond or Bruce Lee. Alex Honnold and Jerry Seinfeld come to mind. Serena Williams and Jay-Z. Someone who has harnessed their own potential through discipline and attention to detail. That rare individual who has taken command of their life through reasoned intent and deliberate action, and thereby gained mastery over their circumstances.

The microshiner knows perfection can be sought, even if it’s never achieved. That it should be. Practice, not attainment, is the key.

Microshiners are architects. They create lives that are impeccable by design. Everything is distilled to its core. I do this because of that, I do that because of this. Nothing is taken for granted, nothing left to chance that can be engineered. A microshiner assumes responsibility for every aspect of their existence.

Theirs is the province of the philosopher, seeking authenticity and truth. Truth leads to quality, and a microshiner desires quality above all things. They demand it in themselves.

A microshiner has a deep appreciation for spirits, and consider themselves through this lens. Distilled to their essence. Stripped of all excess. Clear of mind and pure of heart, a blank canvas with the potential of a masterpiece. A microshiner expresses this spirit in the life they lead.

The microshiner recognizes value in the long game. They acknowledge that quality does not come cheap or easy. Rather, it requires dedication, forethought, and patience. Whiskey is their mentor, and they listen at its knee.

A microshiner seeks to translate this understanding into reality. To leverage potential into purpose. To actualize intent.

For a microshiner, the questions why and how are paramount. What is but the byproduct of answering them. Intent determines outcome. It is the reason behind the action that holds sway.

A microshiner chooses craft deliberately. There are many reasons why we do this, but most can be reduced to our genuine desire to assume, wholly, responsibility for our every action.

That, and a taste for exceptional spirits.

image by Ben Gavelda

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Finger Lakes Gift Baskets for the Craft Cocktail Lover

The good folks at Finger Lakes Distilling have put a new spin on the traditional holiday basket with their new cocktail kits. Available in their tasting room, each basket includes all the ingredients necessary to craft an unforgettable cocktail!

Baskets are offered in three expressions: classic, brunch and dessert.

  • The Manhattan: McKenzie Rye, Luxardo Cherries, Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters, Finger Lakes Distilling rocks glass.

  • The Bloody Mary: Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey, Fee Brother's Celery Bitters, Demitri's Bacon Rim Salt, Longbranch Bloody Mary Zinger mix.

  • Chocolate Covered Cherries and Raspberries: 1 bottle Cherry Liqueur, 1 bottle Raspberry Liqueur, Fee Brother's Chocolate Bitters.

Its a spirited gift idea that we hope other craft distillers get on board with, and a great way to introduce your friends and neighbors to not only craft spirits but handcrafted and local cocktail necessities as well.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Make Your Company Christmas Party Absolutely Epic!

Everyone knows that the company Christmas party can be an unpredictable affair. Drunk people and Santa costumes, what could go wrong? Now imagine if Santa showed up with 15 gallons of whiskey.

That's exactly what the gang over at Wigle is proposing with their "Santa Delivers" promotion. We're not sure if anyone will take them up on the offer, but we're certain it will be epic if they do!

Here's the details:
Get excited, whiskey lovers, because the ultimate gift for the spirits lover in your life is here!  Who wouldn't want Santa to show up at the house and personally deliver handcrafted organic spirits?

For $5000, a distillery Santa will hand-deliver a 15-gallon barrel and the (80) 750ml bottles emptied from it to an address within the state of Pennsylvania or Washington DC. Also included in the package is a Santa-led whiskey tasting, photography session to document the occasion, 12 Wigle snifter glasses, and cookies. Delivery available beforenoon on December 23rd, 2015
For those who prefer an alternative holiday character, Wigle's distillery delivery team will dress up as Santa's elves or Hanukkah Harry.

Click here to become THE yuletide hero at home or the office.