Saturday, March 29, 2014


There are about four dozen drink recipes in Corin Hirsch's Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel and Spruce Beer. (Here's the first part of my review, on the historical survey that makes up the bulk of the book.) Some are traditional drinks of the sort that colonists would actually have made and drunk (give or take some ice). Others are modern adaptations, using ingredients not available to colonists, possibly because they hadn't been invented yet.

At first, I thought including modern recipes was a bit of a cheat, a way of padding out what would otherwise be a rather thin collection. But they seem like pretty decent cocktails, even the ones that don't appear to have anything to do with either colonial times or New England.

And, quite frankly, a little traditional drink recipe goes a long way. There are only so many ways I need to be told to combine rum, sugar, and water before I have the hang of it.

Still, I'm looking forward to trying a Stone-Fence (1 1/2 oz rum added to hard cider), and maybe laying up a bottle of Cider Royal (1/2 cup apple brandy in a bottle of cider for 3-6 months). I went through a flip phase a few winters back, and Forgotten Drinks includes a couple of flip recipes I might try when it gets cold again (which better not be till November).

Oh, and yes, some day I will make a Rattle-Skull. (I'm more interested in trying the traditional recipe than the modern one. Several other drinks also feature traditional and modern versions.)

Syllabub? Posset? Sangaree? Yeah, I can see taking a whack at these. Switchel? No. I've already discovered the hard way that I'm just not a shrub man, and switchels sound a bit too much like shrubs. Spruce beer? Say it with me, people:

Pine Trees Aren't People Food.

There are also a few traditional traditional recipes -- like Martha Washington's own recipe for cherry bounce:
Extract the juice of 20 pounds well ripend Morrella [aka sour] cherrys. Add to this 10 quarts of old french brandy and sweeten it with White sugar to your taste. To 5 gallons of this mixture add one ounce of spice such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs of each an Equal quantity slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of cherry kirnels that have been gently broken in a mortar. After the liquor has fermented let it stand close-stoped for a month or six weeks then bottle it, remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.
I'm not sure what I would do with five gallons of cherry bounce -- more importantly, I'm not sure how I'd hide five gallons of cherry bounce from my wife while figuring out what to do with it -- but the point of these recipes is less to make them at home than to get a sense of how drinks were made back then. You didn't need a half-ounce jigger when you were laying up stores for the winter. (And if you really want to make cherry bounce, you can always just ask the Internet.)

Overall, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England works as both a short and informal reference book on alcoholic drinks in colonial times (including a glossary and several pages of sources) and a short cocktail recipe book (though, yes, a lot of the drinks predate the creation of the cocktail). I'll keep my copy with my other recipe books, and pull it out occasionally to see if there's something I feel like trying. (The paperback is $19.99; it's also available as a Kindle edition for $9.99. As I mentioned in the first post, I got a review copy free in the mail, so I'm not going to try to tell you whether it's worth it to you to buy it, but I hope I gave you enough information to help you decide.)


When I was ten or eleven, I found out you could make soup. At home. From scratch. Without opening a can.

I promptly put some chopped vegetables in water on the stove and went outside to play, setting the pattern of curiosity, creativity, and carelessness that I've applied to my hobbies ever since. I have, for example, tried a number of things with alcoholic drinks over the years, not all of which could be fairly described as seeming like a good idea even at the time. A few of these I've chronicled on this blog.

So of course I was keen to read Corin Hirsch's Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer and pleased when a review copy arrived in the mail.

I was expecting a cocktail recipe book, with some colorful backstories thrown in. And there are indeed about four dozen recipes, and lots of backstories. But about two thirds of the book is a historical survey of the role of alcoholic drinks in the lives and culture of colonial New England, and England's American colonies in general. It's a fascinating and complicated story, with subplots on beer, cider, rum, and even wine.

On colonial beer, Hirsch contrasts the Swedish Lutheran minister Israel Acrelius's opinion of the beer drunk by the common people as "brown, thick, and unpalatable" to French immigrant Hector Crevecoeur's description of his use of "pine chips, pine buds, hemlock, fir leaves, roasted corn, dried apple-skins, sassafras roots, and bran... to which we add some hops and a little malt [to] compose a sort of beverage that's very pleasant." I don't know how brown or thick Crevecouer's sort of beverage was, but it sure sounds unpalatable to me.

Cider became more popular than beer in colonial New England.
By the mid-1770s, the average New England family might consume a barrel of cider a week, putting up dozens of barrels for the winter...By 1775, one out of every ten New England farms had its own cider mill.

Hirsch says cider's popularity was due in part because it was cheaper and easier to make than beer, but I'd bet not having pine trees in it must have helped. It seems like they did get the taste right; Brillat-Savarin of The Physiology of Taste fame reported an encounter with a Connecticut cider "so excellent that I could have gone on drinking it forever."

As for rum, I knew it was the spirit of choice in colonial New England, but I didn't realize quite how often they chose it.143 New England distilleries produced five million gallons of rum in 1765, and at some point the output accounted for 80 percent of all exports from the colonies. As for the rum that wasn't exported, the colonists
drank it straight (a dram); watered down (grog and sling); blended with pepper (pepper rum), cider (Stone-Fence), ale and cream (flip) or brandy (Rattle-Skull); or glugged into a bowl with citrus juices and sugar (punch). By the time Increase [Mather]'s son, Cotton, railed, "Would it not be a surprise to hear of a Country destroy'd by a Bottle of RUM?" his countrymen were fairly soaked in the stuff.
If you haven't heard of the delightful wines made in the colonies... well, neither did the Englishmen who spent a great deal of money trying to make delightful wines in the colonies.

As for whiskey, that was more of a post-colonial phenomenon, led by the Scotch-Irish settling the western frontier and helped by a strong hit to the rum industry during the War when the supply of molasses was largely cut off.

There were definitely social consequences of the ubiquity of alcoholic beverages at the time; even children might drink a low-alcohol ciderkin (drinking water was looked on with suspicion, for good reason in the days of dumping sewage into rivers). Hirsch quotes a passage from Benjamin Franklin (writing as Silence Dogood in 1720), indicating the creativity of language sparked by all the drinking:
They are seldom known to be drunk, tho' they are very often boozey, cogey, tipsey, fox'd, merry, mellow, fuddl'd, groatable, Confoundedly cut, See two Moons, are Among the Philistines, In a very good Humour, See the Sun, or, The Sun has shone upon them; they Clip the King's English, are Almost froze, Feavourish, In their Altitudes, Pretty well enter'd, &c. In short, every Day produces some new Word or Phrase which might be added to the Vocabulary of the Tiplers.
There were also economic and political consequences -- a lot of the taxation without representation that was going on in those days involved alcoholic beverages and their ingredients.

Corin Hirsch writes about all these things in an instructive but light voice. The first line of the introduction -- quoting someone who overhears a conversation about colonial drinking -- gives an idea of her take on the subject, as an amateur who's done the studying for the rest of us: "'Did they really drink that much?'"

The book doesn't give a scholarly answer -- there's not much attention to chronology or orderly presentation of data, and the social commentaries are essentially anecdotal. I noticed a few errors of fact -- it's uisce beatha, not uisce breatha, and it doesn't mean "breath of life," nor is perry pear brandy. And it could have benefited from one more editorial pass to sand down some of the writing tics; Hirsch is perhaps too fond of drinks being "swilled" and hot places being "sticky."

Still, I learned a lot about colonial drinks and the colonists who drank them, and I still haven't said anything about the recipes. Given the length of this post, I think I'll make that part 2.

Glass envy

A few more thoughts about the difference between how whiskey tastes and how we taste whiskey:

First, the better you understand why you're tasting this whiskey, the better you can adjust the experience to meet your end, and the better experience you'll have. If you're simply after enjoyment of this whiskey right here in this glass, then it would seem you'd want to think it's a highly valued whiskey. Best, perhaps, to drink it with someone who really likes it, since their enthusiasm will add to yours.

Blind tastings, on the other hand, are ill-suited to maximizing the pleasure of drinking a particular dram. They can, though, help you think about what you do and don't like, apart from the opinions of everyone not tasting along with you. They're also pretty good at humbling you.1

Understanding why you're tasting this whiskey might include the realization that the reason you're tasting this whiskey is dumb. More than one enthusiast has discovered that his hobby has become a chore, an obligation to chase after the latest whiskey because it... well, because it's the latest whiskey, and if you haven't tasted this latest whiskey then you aren't on the cutting edge of whiskey tasting and you'll lose the respect of, you know, those weirdos down at the worm store.2

Even worse, perhaps, than chasing after a whiskey because it's new! is chasing after it because everyone else is chasing after it. I might be able to keep up with the Jones' whiskey collection, but there's no way I can keep up with the Internet's whiskey collection.

Nor would it make any sense for me to try. Here's where I remind myself, not only of the difference between envy -- which is wanting someone else to lose something good that they have, preferably to you -- and zeal -- which is wanting something good that someone else has, without them losing it as well -- but of the difference between healthy and unhealthy zeal. Unhealthy zeal is when you adopt someone else's zeal for something good simply on the basis of the zeal, not on whether the thing they're zealous for would actually be any good for you.

A final thought: While knowing that a whiskey is highly thought of may improve the experience of tasting it, that doesn't mean it makes sense for me to taste the most highly thought of whiskey I prudently can. Like the old Stanford marshmallow experiment trick, the experience of tasting the really good stuff will be much better if I delay it until I know more about whiskey3, and my palate, and what makes really good stuff really good. Sure, I can try it both now and later, but if the cost is the same and the delayed enjoyment greater, why not save the cost of the lesser enjoyment now? (With "save the cost," I kid, of course. Nothing would be saved, it would merely be spent more efficiently.)

1. I should say that I have not ever done a blind tasting myself. I'm incompetent at sighted tasting, so there wouldn't be much value added. That said, it wasn't too long ago that I ordered a new-to-me Irish whiskey at a bar, which I thought was quite nice, and didn't find out until I ordered a second one that the server had misheard me the first time and what I'd drunk was a Macallan 12. Scotch, Irish, what the hell do I know?

2. In the Simpson's episode, "The War of the Simpsons," Homer explains to Marge why it's so important he catch General Sherman, the legendary catfish of a local lake. " If I catch this fish, I'll be a hero, respected and admired for years!"
Marge asks, "By whom?"
Homer answers, "Those weirdos down at the worm store!"
How much, O Man, is done in your life for just this reason!

3. Like, for instance, the difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey.

Lies my brain told me about whiskey

Adam of the Los Angeles Whiskey Society (LAWS) pulled the old slip-a-legend-into-a-blind-tasting trick, in this instance including Black Bowmore 1964 1st Edition in a lineup with a bunch of nobodies like Macallan 28yr Douglas Laing Premier Barrel and Bunnahabhain 1978 DL Platinum. And, as seems to always happen when this trick is pulled, the legend didn't particularly stand out:
Nobody jumped out of their chairs. Nobody even made much of a fuss. A few eyebrows raised, but nothing crazy. Most thought it was "pretty good," a couple "great." Some weren't terribly impressed. Nobody guessed it was Bowmore, nor did anyone seem to think it was anything super-special. These are all guys who know whisky, most of whom are serious, hardcore single malt veterans.
His explanation?
Any "legendary" whisky is good-to-excellent, but mind-blowing is impossible. Whisky can only get so good, and the rest is added in your head. Really.

When you're told something is excellent, expensive, rare, and revered, it's going to taste a lot better. It's a proven physical and psychological fact. And that's fine, it's part of the experience.

Which means that, at a certain point, the reason to spend more money, or more effort, to get a particular whiskey can't be based on the taste of the whiskey alone:
This is purely notional, of course. The curves are atan(x) and atan'(x).
If only whiskey pricing made as much sense as trigonometry.
This gets into the distinction between the taste of the whiskey and our experience of the taste of the whiskey. Or, if you prefer, it gets into the question of whether it even makes sense to talk of taste apart from the experience of taste.

Our experience depends on the context in which we interpret the sense data we receive from nosing and drinking, and that context includes not only what we know (or have been told) about what we are drinking, but also all the other circumstances -- the who, what, when, where, why, way, and means -- involved.

As Adam mentioned, one of the circumstances that improves our experience of the taste of the whiskey is the belief that other people value it highly. This effect occurs in experts as well as novices (which, I've read, is why some famous wine experts won't do blind tastings).

If you live only for pleasure, the scientific conclusion is clear: You're not spending enough on whiskey.

I'll assume without evidence that this effect dampens out at some point, that even the snobbiest orbitofrontal cortex doesn't insist that a $10,000 ounce of whiskey tastes fifty bucks better than a $9,950 ounce. If that gives too much credit to snobs, we can at least cap our pleasure in tasting increasingly expensive whiskeys by the increasing financial ruin that accompanies the experience.

The good news is that, while every possible experience of the taste of whiskey can't be known in this life, plenty of very pleasant experiences remain possible, even when balanced against all of life's non-whiskey-related experiences. As I've said before, if you can afford to drink whiskey, you can afford to drink good whiskey, and if you look after all the other things that affect your experience of that whiskey, drinking that good whiskey can make for a very pleasant hobby indeed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lies my whiskey told me make things worse

A good number of the posts on this blog touch, one way or another, on the topic of truthfulness and whiskey. I'm interested in the question of truthfulness generally, and I'm learning more all the time about the conventions of whiskeyspeak and the schools of thought about what is and isn't legitimate.1

My own opinion is that, generally speaking, we have too weak an understanding of truthfulness. We tend, I think, to look at truthfulness pragmatically, as simply the absence of lying. We don't value truthfulness in itself; rather, we estimate the harm a particular instance of lying cause, and if the harm doesn't seem all that bad, we excuse the lie (particularly when we personally benefit, from either the lie or the excusing of the lie).

I'd suggest, though, that truthfulness isn't just the condition of not lying when asked a question, it's the positive virtue -- the good habit -- of telling other people true things they would benefit from knowing. Members of a truthful society learn things from others that can help them, in less time and with less trouble and doubt than they would otherwise. Truthfulness is a necessary condition for members of a society to thrive.

From this perspective, it isn't just flat-out lying that's contrary to truthfulness. There are all sorts of ways we might overstate and understate, dissemble, dissimulate, distract, and deceive. If we do so in order to prevent someone from learning something that they should know -- or to get them to think they've learned something that's isn't so -- then we've acted against the virtue of truthfulness, whether or not we have a clever argument that what we said was not quite entirely unlike the truth broadly considered.

Okay, so whiskey?

So a whiskey company that isn't truthful makes society worse.

The people who are subjected to the untruths are worse off for not knowing things they could benefit from knowing, and even worser off if they wind up thinking they know something that isn't actually true. And as they move about acting in ways they wouldn't choose if they knew what they should have been told, the negative effects of their erring choices spread out throughout society. (An honest micro-distillery, for example, might lose a sale, intended by the customer to support a local distillery, to Eustace Q. Hornswoggle's Backwoods Whiskeyworks' bottling of the six MGP barrels closest to the door.)

Moreover, the people in a whiskey company who are themselves untruthful -- and of course companies don't have virtues or vices, except in a manner of speaking as they derive from the virtues and vices of the individuals acting on behalf of the companies -- are worse off, both because they are cultivating their own vices2 and because they are also members of a society in which there is less truthfulness than there ought to be.

If a whiskey company that isn't truthful makes society worse, then we should not lightly dismiss their habit as an inconsequential circumstance of the whiskey they sell.

1. Let me just say I'm not really interested in the question of what is legal. That's a more or less objective question on a subject about which I know essentially nothing. I assume that everything companies do or say in public is legal, even if, say, I can't figure out how to square it with a casual reading of the Code of Federal Regulations. And, of course, just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right. Or vice versa.

2. Vice is, after all, its own punishment, as unsatisfying a thought as that it when considering the vices of others.

Friday, March 21, 2014

So you want to be an NDP

MGP helpfully lists all their products on their website. Here's a table of the mashbills for the whiskeys they offer.

Whiskey Product% Corn% Barley Malt% Rye% Wheat
Bourbon (45% Wheat)514045
Bourbon (49% Barley Malt)514900
Bourbon (21% Rye)754210
Bourbon (36% Rye)604360
Bourbon (99% Corn)99100
Corn Whiskey (15% Rye)814150
Light Whiskey (99% Corn)99100
Malt Whiskey (100% Barley Malt)010000
Rye Whiskey (49% Barley Malt)049510
51% Rye Whiskey454510
95% Rye Whiskey05950
95% Wheat Whiskey05095

You can see how a blender who knew what they were doing might do some interesting things. Want a rye whiskey that's a blend of 70% rye, 20% corn, and 10% barley malt? Try 12.4% of the 49% barley malt rye whiskey, 44.4% of the 45% corn rye whiskey, and 43.2% of the 95% rye whiskey. If you weren't concerned about calling it a straight whiskey, you could probably bottle pretty close to any combination of the four grains listed.

Or you could set up like Whisky Blender, stock up on a few barrels of each, and let your customers design their own blends on a per-bottle basis. I expect most of the results would be uninspired, and I don't know what you'd do with all that light whiskey you bought just in case, but it might be fun.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lies my whiskey told me: prologue

Philosophers and theologians have spent a lot of time down through the generations thinking about the different ways people bend and break the truth. In part because people have spent so much time down through the generations bending and breaking the truth, but also because -- despite what our mothers taught us -- there are times when not telling the truth seems like the better choice. The "murderer at the door" scenario has been a standard hard case for centuries.

There are all sorts of categories to describe the different ways what we say relates to what we think is true. For example, there's:
  • Plain truth: I say what I think is true ("I am typing these words with my own fingers").
  • Conventional speech: I say something that doesn't literally mean what I think is true, but that is conventionally understood to mean something I think is true ("I'm fine" as an answer to the question, "How are you?").
  • Equivocation: I say something that has multiple interpretations, usually with the intent that the hearer either settle on an interpretation that isn't consistent with what I think is true or at least be unsure as to which interpretation is consistent ("These are not my own words," which is true in the sense that these are English words, which are not my personal property).
  • Mental reservation: I say something that I don't think is true in itself, while thinking of words that, if added to what I say, would make a statement that I think is true ("I don't much care for whiskey," mentally reserving the words "in my morning coffee").
  • Bald lie: I say something that I in no way think is true ("I had dinner with the Peruvian ambassador last night").
Add to that the various rhetorical devices, the distinction between literal and literalistic, the different theories on how signs signify, cross it all with the various schools of thought on morality, justice, and virtue -- and it's no wonder people don't pay much attention to philosophers and theologians.

Instead, they have their own ideas about what ways of bending or breaking the truth are always okay, are sometimes okay, and are never okay (not to mention their own ideas of what "okay" means).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whiskey stats

Soon after the news broke that Campari has bought Forty Creek, @65glenfarclas tweeted a link to a PDF of their "Acquisition of Forty Creek Distillery Ltd." investor presentation.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, if that's the sort of stuff you're interested in. For instance, Slide 5 distinguishes "premium" brands from "low price" and "value" brands, reminding everyone that "premium" doesn't refer to what's in the bottle, but what's coming out of your wallet.

Which adds an ominous note to Slide 18's statement that "Gruppo Campari is well positioned to... [f]urther premiumise Campari’s brand portfolio." Wouldn't "premiumise" mean "raise the price"?

There's also some great pie charts in the presentation, for people who like numbers. These are from ISWR for 2012:

72% of the sales is in premium and deluxe price tiers. Canadians drink better.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why Canada should in fact spell it "whiskey."

And these are from DISCUS, for 2013:

I don't know which category Red Stag falls in, but it certainly should be counted as part of the US spirit breakdown.

Guess they're still spilling more Bourbon and Tennessee than selling rye.

A lot of people would never guess that one out of every twelve ounces of spirits sold in the United States is Canadian whisky. (Of course, a lot of people would never guess that Crown Royal is Canadian whisky.)

Slide 13 presents the case for "The US opportunity for Forty Creek whisky," including my favorite statistics of the whole package. In the past year, Canadian whisky has had:
  • Volume growth of 2.9% overall
  • Value growth of 6.1% overall
  • Value growth of 9.1% for super premium whisky
  • Value growth of 62.8% for high-end premium whisky
(Forty Creek is super premium, costing half again as much as the market average (keeping in mind the market average comes in plastic bottles).)

All this sounds great for the Canadian whisky industry, but when one category has ten times the value growth of the whole industry, then it had better be a tiny category, or the other categories are going to have a considerably smaller value growth than the overall number -- and may even be shrinking. Here's a nonsense chart showing the sort of value growth the non-premium Canadian whiskies must have had as a function of the percentage of the whole market the high-end premium had, if super premium started at 5% of the overall market:
The math may well be correct. The assumptions almost certainly aren't.

For all I know, the makers of low cost and value Canadian whisky are happy with low or negative value growth. If they aren't, though, they might respond by, say, releasing better whiskies to get a slice of the premium pie. That would be good for premium whisky drinkers in the U.S. -- at least as far as selection goes -- and it might even be good for Forty Creek (which has not yet been producing to capacity) and Campari, if U.S. drinkers get used to the idea that Canadian whisky isn't just for mixing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A cloud no larger than a man's hand

It's coming.

I got the PR email. That means real whiskey bloggers also got the PR email. And that means, some time in the next several weeks, my blogroll and Twitter feed will be painted Cutty Sark yellow with comments on their new blend.

The "fact sheet" included with the PR email begins with a number of not-altogether- and near-facts:
Released 80 years after the end of the era which it celebrates, Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition has been crafted as a salute to the notorious Captain William McCoy, who smuggled Cutty Sark blended Scotch whisky into America during the Prohibition era (1920-­‐1933). Captain McCoy’s impeccable reputation for dealing only in the finest, genuine and unadulterated liquor gave rise to Cutty Sark being referred to as “The Real McCoy.”
It's been more than 90 years since the notorious Captain William McCoy was arrested, and he wasn't particularly associated with Cutty Sark while he was still bootlegging. He "mostly hauled Rye, Irish and Canadian whiskey," if you can believe Wikipedia (and if you can't, then we're all lost).

Even if we accept the false etymology about "The Real McCoy" deriving from the smuggler's reputation and grant that Cutty Sark was might just barely have been (see UPDATE) among the brands he smuggled, it wouldn't follow that this "gave rise to Cutty Sark being referred to as 'The Real McCoy'" -- except in the trivial sense that any unadulterated liquor could be called that, even today.

But the true history of the phrase makes its use in this ad campaign more entertaining. The Dictionary of the Scots Language reports that "the orig. of the ph. is obscure," but adds that the phrase "was adopted as an advertising slogan by Messrs. G. Mackay and Co., whisky distillers of Edinburgh, in 1870 and must have been already current by that date."

Cutty Sark, then, is using a corrupted form of an advertising slogan for a different Scotch whisky to advertise their own whisky -- a slogan that means "the real thing, the genuine article."

UPDATE: Something was nagging at me about this story, so I double-checked, and it turns out that Cutty Sark Whisky was only conceived of on March 23, 1923 (if you believe their website).So, okay, it's possible that, some time in the eight months to the day between the brand first being discussed and the bootlegger being arrested, some amount of Cutty Sark was smuggled by McCoy. But that's a pretty weak peg to hang your ad campaign on.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

From the archives

I just found this unpublished post from October 2012.

At a tasting at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington last night, I met Whistlepig founder Raj Bhakta and had a chance to try their new "111" bottling.

Their standard bottling is a 10 y.o., 100% rye bottled at 100 proof, so as you might guess the 111 is an 11 y.o. rye bottled at 111 proof. They don't claim it's 111% rye, though they do claim there are only 1100 cases.

Oh, and it retails for $111.

Whistlepig's master distiller is Dave Pickerell, former master distiller at Maker's Mark, and as the story goes he discovered some 100% rye whiskey that had been more or less accidentally double-barreled (first in new oak, then in second-fill bourbon) and forgotten by a Canadian distillery. This was the first release of Whistlepig.

Their plan is to eventually sell rye whiskey made start to finish at Whistlepig (in Shoreham, Vermont), and in the meantime they're playing around with different ways of finishing the Canadian whiskey. Raj Bhakta said last night that they're working with a leading Scottish master of wood, and mentioned they were looking at Spanish sherry and California wine refills.

The extra wrinkle of the 111 is that, just before bottling, it's taken out of the bourbon refills and put into new oak barrels for two days. I'd say that's nothing but a gimmick, except it sounds like such a hassle that they must think it actually does something to the final product.

UPDATE: I should add that I don't know what, if anything, Raj Bhakta said that night that's true. He's given to speaking material falsehoods about whiskey, both his own and others'. Dave Pickerell lives in Kentucky and gave a recent interview in which Whistlepig wasn't even mentioned; he seems to still be in charge of cask selection, but whether he has anything to do with any plans for a future distillery in Vermont remains to be seen. I mention this only because I just came across a recent blog post that refers to Whistlepig as "a distillery with a rich and storied past," and even picks up on their snake oil about the ultra posh pigs they raise. The symbolism is almost too much: The company is blowing smoke up the consumer's ass about Carpathian swine raised for royalty, when a whistlepig is actually just a groundhog.

Sometimes you're sold a story and get a free bottle of whiskey

Recently, Chuck Cowdery posted the results of his attempt to answer the question,  "Where is the Bulleit Distilling Company?" His post concludes:
There is no shame in being a non-distiller producer and if the actual producer won't let you reveal their identity, that's understandable too.

The shame is in not being honest about it.
I agree, although shame is weak currency in this industry.

I'm not sure I altogether agree with the implication of the last of a series of questions Chuck poses earlier in his post:
Do you like to do business with companies that mislead you? Are you suspicious when a company won't even tell you where their products are made? Does that make you feel appreciated and respected as a customer?
To the proposal that Bulleit's evasiveness means they don't appreciate and respect their customers, I'd answer: Can we distinguish between Bulleit's target customers and whiskey enthusiasts? To their target customers, Bulleit gives, not only a good whiskey at a good price (and whenever you see those words, stock up now!), but a whole sub-creation they can become part of. Frontier whiskey! Augustus! Olde-tyme recipe! Family tradition! Soft-spoken and avuncular founder, coming to a bar near you!

And the target customers reply, "Cool!" They get a drink at a good price, and a story thrown in for free -- or the other way around, if you prefer. Bulleit makes a nice profit, Diageo toasts its success with their customary goblets of puppy blood, and everyone's happy.

Whiskey enthusiasts? Well, they aren't happy, exactly, but they do get something to complain about, and a puzzle to work on, which has its own satisfactions.

UPDATE: This post originally started with a quotation from an interview with Tom Bulleit. The interviewer has since amended the text of that interview, revising the words that made the quotation relevant here.