Make us your home page
Instagram

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.

More makers, more interest in scotch 04/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 10:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Anna Maria City Pier to close for year after 'extensive damage' from Hurricane Irma

    Travel

    ANNA MARIA — While Hurricane Irma's last-minute shift helped spare large swaths of Florida cities from catastrophic damage, the Anna Maria City Pier didn't fare so well.

    A damage assessment following Hurricane Irma suggests repairs for the Anna Maria City Pier can take at least 12 months. [LUIS SANTANA for Visit Florida]
  2. Top picks for healthy convenience foods that put popular whole grains to good use

    Cooking

    Whole grains are trending. The National Restaurant Association declared them one of the top 20 food trends of 2017, multiple surveys report that consumers are seeking them out, and thousands of grocery items have been reformulated to include more in the past year. That's a good thing because there is a tall stack of …

    There is a tall stack of research supporting the health benefits of eating whole grains, which include preventing the risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease and helping with weight management.
  3. 'Battle of the Sexes' is a fine time capsule comedy, and not really about the tennis

    Movies

    In 1973, tennis champion Billie Jean King joined a two-ring circus with hustler Bobby Riggs, billed as a Battle of the Sexes amid the women's liberation movement. Fifty million Americans watched the pop spectacle on TV.

    Emma Stone and Steve Carell in the film "Battle of the Sexes." [Fox Searchlight Pictures.]
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 26

    Events

    University Lecture Series: Jackie Cruz: In part of USF's Hispanic Heritage Month activities, actress Jackie Cruz (Orange is the New Black) presents "Cruzing Through Adversity" in which she offers lessons on resilience, determination and turning life's challenges into opportunities and a better outlook. 8 …

    Jackie Cruz in a scene from Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" Season 2. Photo credit: Jessica Miglio for Netflix.
  5. Restaurant review: Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights should focus on mom-and-pop pharmacy vibe

    Food & Dining

    By Laura Reiley

    Times Food Critic

    TAMPA

    Sometimes, the more time you have with a project, the more complicated it gets. I started hearing about Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights about 18 months ago. It was the vision of Ujwal Patel, a pharmacist;

    Mortar & Pestle opened in Seminole Heights in Tampa in August. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]