Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Bars & Spirits

More makers, more interest in scotch

SARASOTA

Turner Moore explains it like this. A hundred years ago, Prohibition stamped out bold flavors in American booze — rye, bourbon and so forth. Maybe this was because people wanted to keep their tippling on the down low, better accomplished with neutral, clear spirits. Then scotch got a foothold in this country after American GI's had exposure to it during their time abroad in the war. You only have to see an episode of Mad Men to know that scotch was king. But then in the 1960s and 1970s, people rebelled against what their parents were drinking. Too square, man.

And in this last decade, people have come back around to those bold flavors. Bourbon is back, scotch is hot. Going hand in hand with a mania for craft beer, classic craft cocktails are celebrated in restaurants and bars from coast to coast.

On Friday, Sarasota's Michael's on East hosted the first Whiskey Obsession Festival, with more than 450 people packed into the ballroom to sample 165 scotches and Irish and American whiskeys from 76 different brands. But on Thursday evening a smaller group of 45 crowded into Michael's wine shop to listen to eight distillers and brand ambassadors discuss their products and the latest trends in scotches and bourbon whiskeys.

Heaven Hill American Whiskey Collection brand ambassador Bernie Lubbers got things started off with a sampling of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Kentucky bourbon, encouraging the crowd to "Jam your nose in and open your mouth. Now give it a little chew."

Lubbers spoke a bit about what contributes to the flavor of a finished bourbon. A master distiller's rule of thumb is that the final flavor can be attributed 10 percent to yeast strain, 15 percent to the distillation process, 25 percent to small grains and 50 percent to maturation. That means age is key. In larger-format barrels, a number of years are necessary to transform the initial white spirit into one with pronounced vanillas (not to mention graham cracker, butterscotch, brown sugar and caramel).

Which is why some bourbon distillers are experimenting with small-format barrels. David Cuttino, co-founder of Reservoir Distillery in Virginia and one of the evening's speakers, is using 5- and 10-gallon barrels for his Reservoir bourbon, wheat whiskey and rye to elicit color and extract in as little as two years ("we keep tasting it until it tastes right").

For both bourbon and scotch brands, sitting on inventory as it ages is a tremendous financial burden. Monkey Shoulder ambassador Freddy May posited that perhaps this pressure explains the popularity of unaged white bourbon, often called white dog, which can be distilled and bottled pronto.

His Monkey Shoulder, a blended malt whisky from Scotland, shared many of the characteristics of some of the evening's bourbons. And Reservoir rye exhibited some of the characteristics (wood and smoke and hints of spice) common to scotch.

Which, for the newbie, prompts the question: Well, what's the difference? "Whiskey" means cereal grain, mashed, distilled and aged in oak barrels. A subset, bourbon must be made in the United States, from a grain alcohol mixture that's at least 51 percent corn. It has to be aged in new oak barrels that are charred on the inside. Scotch, on the other hand, must be made only of water and whole barley and aged in Scotland in oak barrels (often bourbon and sherry casks) for a minimum of three years. Scotches from the island of Islay in the Hebrides are often smoked with bricks of peat, lending an intense smokiness to the finished product, as with the evening's final scotch, a 15-year single malt from Bowmore, one of the oldest in Scotland.

Despite the myriad restrictions and requirements bourbons and scotches face, all of the evening's distillers and ambassadors seemed thrilled with the current dynamism in the industry and consumer enthusiasm.

"The bourbon category is on fire. It's such an intricate spirit, and it's come a long way over the past five years," said Trey Zoeller, founder and master blender of Jefferson's Bourbon. "It's a great time to be in a category that's evolving, because consumers have been educated."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

     
Comments
Four ideas for edible gifts you can find throughout Tampa Bay

Four ideas for edible gifts you can find throughout Tampa Bay

Carlynn Crosby, Times correspondentFlorida Pure Sea SaltHarvested from Tampa Bay’s waters, these handcrafted salts come in flavors like maple bacon, Sriracha, lemongrass, habanero or black truffle. They retail for $15 a jar online, at floridapuresea...
Published: 12/13/17
Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Petersburg’s only 24/7 restaurant has opened and doesn’t plan to close, ever. The 2nd & Second diner at the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue N will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering a spot f...
Published: 12/12/17
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

As a kid, I always looked for doors into other worlds. I blame Narnia. In C.S. Lewis’ classic novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four British children step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a world filled with talking animals and plenty ...
Published: 12/12/17

From the food editor: How to make perfect, hot Crispy Roasted Potatoes

Sometimes, you just want a hot, crispy potato.I didn’t get home from work the other night craving a full dinner; I arrived at my house with cartoon visions of potatoes in my head, and knew I had to make it happen.I wasn’t looking for a fast food fren...
Published: 12/12/17
Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Should I infuse this vodka with bacon?That’s not a question I expected to ask myself on a Sunday morning, but here we are. This Christmas, I’m giving homemade gifts: infused liquor and chocolate fudge. But I didn’t realize it would be so hard to find...
Published: 12/12/17
Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, chef and television personality Mario Batali offered up his views on how to combat sexual harassment in the workplace for an Oct. 30 video for Fast Company."You need a workplace free of fear, that harbors an...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

TAMPAMaybe it’s the twinkling chandeliers. All skajillion of them. Or maybe it is the rhythmic syncopation of ice cubes in shiny shakers. It could be the old-timey metal dessert cart with its silver cloches and chafing dishes, or else the chummy-but-...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
Starbucks’ Christmas Tree Frappuccino tastes like broken promises and Thin Mints

Starbucks’ Christmas Tree Frappuccino tastes like broken promises and Thin Mints

You thought Starbucks was waging a war on Christmas when, in 2011, the company’s holiday cups featured nutcrackers that bore a coincidental resemblance to the Guy Fawkes mask, at the time a symbol of Occupy Wall Street. You thought Starbucks was taki...
Published: 12/08/17