Michter’s names a new master distiller

Michter’s current distiller, Dan McKee is to succeed his mentor, Pamela Heilmann as the brand’s master distiller

Michter’s master distiller, Pamela Heilmann has announced her retirement from full time work, which will come into effect from 1 May this year.

Following on from the news, the brand has implemented its succession plan, in which their current distiller, Dan McKee will become master distiller and distillery manager, Matt Bell will become distiller.

In May the 2019 bottling of Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon will go on sale, a fitting tribute and the final release of Heilmann’s tenure as master distiller at Michter’s.

“After we hired Pam, she brought over Dan from her prior company. It quickly became apparent that he was extraordinarily talented and would someday be an outstanding master distiller,” said Michter’s president, Joseph J. Magliocco. “Pam’s contributions to Michter’s have been incredible. She is a truly great distiller, and a truly great person. We’re all thrilled that she has agreed to stay on in a part-time capacity as a master distiller emerita, and I know Dan and Matt will be terrific in their new roles.”

Michter's Senior Production Team

The process of succession looks set to be a smooth one, particularly when you take into consideration that McKee and Heilmann have worked closely together for more than a decade, firstly at Jim Beam and then Michter’s.

Heilmann commented: “I’ve really enjoyed my time at Michter’s, and I’m very proud of what we have done here. One of the favorite parts of my job has been coaching and training younger people as they come up in the industry. Dan is a brilliant distiller, and I am confident that with him and Matt at the helm, our production is in great hands.”

McKee added: “I am so grateful to Pam. To work with her and learn from her has been an honor and a privilege. We will do everything we can to continue Pam’s work and pursue Michter’s goal of producing the greatest American whiskey.”

Michter’s senior management continues to include its master of maturation and executive vice president, Andrea Wilson. She commented: “Pam has been a tremendous leader, and I’m very proud of the team we’ve put together here at Michter’s. Dan and Matt are world class distillers.”

The 2019 release of Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon will be available in May, at 94.4 proof and will sell for a suggested retail price of $130 in the US.

Whisky Live New York

2019 welcomes Whisky Live back under the management of the Paragraph Whisky Live team, with shows being held in New York and Chicago

Whisky Live New York
May 22, 2019
The Altman Building

The first Whisky Live ever held in the US, Whisky Live New York, moves to the Altman Building on 18th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Established in 1896 as the carriage house for the B. Altman department store, The Altman Building is a stunning space with 13,500 square feet over two floors. Original mahogany bay doors connect directly to the street to welcome visitors into an expansive piece of New York history, with custom hardwood floors, exposed vaulted brick ceilings, and an expanse of windows that lend an endless cascade of natural light.

Standard ticket prices are $159, with VIP tickets at $199, which include unique masterclasses hosted by Whisky Magazine and American Whiskey Magazine’s editorial team and distillers.

VIP access is from 5 to 10 p.m., with standard tickets from 6 to 10 p.m., and all tickets include food. Distillers will be coming from all four corners of the globe, showcasing their core ranges as well as rare, unique and hard-to-find whiskeys. Visitors can expect to sample offerings from both niche, craft distillers and globally recognised names. Regardless of your preference, there will be a whiskey to suit all palates – whether an avid enthusiast or new to the world of whiskey.

For more information and to purchase your ticket, head to: http://www.whiskylive.com/events/usa/new-york 

A Ferm take on fermentation

Is it really the unsung hero when producing great whiskey?

Written by: Peggy Noe Stevens

After years of touring people through distilleries to explore the Bourbon process, I seem to notice that one of the all-time favorite stops on the tour is the fermentation area. Why? Fermentation is so visual, watching the bubbly yellow grains interacting with the yeast and watching the tourist dipping their finger in the mash to taste. It’s quite entertaining because aside from the spirits safe, you can’t always see what is happening in the still or watch the inside of a barrel as it matures. Fermentation is open and sensory, but when it comes to saluting the final Bourbon product on the shelf, many times the barrel receives the applause. However, fermentation is the foundation that carries the flavors of the Bourbon throughout the entire production process. If there are off notes, or tainted flavors during fermentation they will carry through the rest of the process, something that the still and barrel are often unable
to solve. 

_MG_8262

Every decision of the master distiller is an important variable to the final product, and it starts with the grain, or recipe. Co-founders Shane Baker and Dr. Pat Heist of Ferm Solutions Inc. in Danville, KY are fermentation experts extraordinaire and because I like the pilots who fly the plane confident and experienced, what better way to understand fermentation than to ask the experts of the third largest fermentation company in the world. Their company houses more than 10,000 strains of yeast in their repository and work with countless clients across the nation on lab service consultation. I tend to geek out on scientific production methods, but decidedly wanted to translate some scientific components into laymen’s terms, so we may all appreciate the Ferm take on fermentation. I mean, you don’t usually sit around with friends drinking Bourbon and someone say, “I can truly taste the maltose.”, or “Wow that amino acid is well rounded.” Time to appreciate the basics that inadvertently translate into great whiskey.

GRAINS AND MASH

Bourbon producers carefully source grains to make their Bourbon profiles and create varying flavors. Rye brings spice, corn asserts sweetness, malted barley creates cereal notes and wheat adds a subtle and soft, airy note. The best quality of the grains is sourced from across the nation, but the genius of the master distiller is to allocate the appropriate percentage for the ‘mash bill’, or recipe. Marry those grains with the water of their region (which also can affect the flavor) and we begin to understand the cooking process. The cooking process is almost as important as fermentation itself because you are preparing the grains to gelatinize starches. The goal is to loosen up that corn to bring out its best. The water and grains are boiled at different high temperatures at the distiller’s choice to literally ‘cook’ the grains. So, think about scalding milk or over-boiling a sauce, or scorching your cornbread. The burnt taste carries though and exactly why it is crucial to monitor the cook cycle to avoid those burnt off notes.

Grains are also picky. If you have ever looked in to the inside of an empty cooker, you may see cooling coils to bring down the temperature at certain points when adding your other grains to the corn. Baker says, it’s like popping popcorn under water. At what temperature will each grain category release, or pop?

DOES YEAST HAVE A FLAVOR?

When describing yeast notes in a Bourbon, it’s relatively simple. Fresh baked bread is distinctive. However, hiding behind that doughy essence are nutty and a surprisingly fruity nose and flavor. This combination is the precursor to bigger and bolder flavors down the production process road and we have the yeast to thank for a nice portion. You hear many distillers speak to their proprietary yeast, handed down from generation to generation and some held under locked key to protect the distiller’s strain. It is true that each yeast strain has different characteristics and gene structures. What is interesting to know that when Baker and his team conducted a research study of 25 distilleries of all sizes, they found that approximately 60 per cent used the same yeast. You be the judge, its why we like different cocktails, it’s all about our taste buds. While not all yeast is created equal 80 per cent of yeast is active-dried yeast. The fascination comes in when you try and harvest a new yeast strain. There are stories of taking samples from old pipes, or vintage bottles to reproduce a strain and it not only makes for a great story, but it can be true. 

_MG_8269

There are even yeast strains for the different categories of whisky from rum to Bourbon.

SWEET VS. SOUR MASH

Sweet mash means all fresh ingredients and water not using any back set (starter) from the last fermentation batch. Think baking bread. A baker will take some dough of a batch of bread and hold it aside to create a starter for the next batch to ensure consistency. In sweet mash, back set is not needed and can develop a softer distillate because it rounds out the amino acids. Sour mash occurs when you do use the back set to seed the next vat of fermentation and distinguishes that sour-like taste.

FERMENTATION

When the cooked grains move to the fermentation vat and are cooled you can add the yeast. That temperature remains very important because too high a heat when the yeast strain is married with the grain and it will virtually stress it out and kill the strain, again releasing off notes. The yeast helps to transform the sugar into alcohol.

 Fermentation is most active during the first couple of days in the vat. You always know a fresh mash tub by the very active jacuzzi bubbles releasing. The alcohol content is very low at this point (roughly 18 proof or 9% ABV), as the distillation process will later electrify the higher proof elevations. When the fermentation is ready to be moved, it looks like loose watery cornmeal and becomes quite still as opposed to the original bubbly mixture. At this point, it is called distiller’s beer, hence where the term ‘beer still’ comes into play when you are ready for the next step of the process.

HOW DO DISTILLERS CHOOSE THE NUMBER OF DAYS THEY WANT TO FERMENT?

You would think it is up to the master distiller to decide the number of days of a fermentation cycle and technically it is, but the decision is largely lead by the lifecycle of the yeast. There is a myth that a longer fermentation cycle is better. The days have to do with the optimal environment and temperature that yeast is happy at. 

It may be simple to describe on a tour how fermentation works, but behind the scenes and dissecting the process can be extremely complicated and scientific. Believe me, I saved you from all the long scientific jargon. 

The very reason that the next sip of Bourbon you take will formulate another appreciation for fermentation. 

Ferm Solutions, Inc. is certainly the rock star when it comes to knowing fermentation and oddly enough that is how Shane and his partner Pat first met, was playing in a rock band. As Baker points out very succinctly, “Every distiller wants the holy grail of making whiskey, but will the distiller take the time to do the full process correctly?” 

I believe him, not just because I believe that patience is THE virtue when making fine Bourbon, but among the many things in his colorful background, he’s an Eagle scout too and must speak the truth.

The invasion of Asian flavors with Bourbon

Americans have fallen in love with cultural cuisine 

Written by: Peggy Noe Stevens

Stop being skeptical. That’s the look I sometimes receive from guests during a food pairing when I tell them we are pairing Asian food with our Bourbon selection. They will immediately say Asian flavors are too strong, or too much heat. Too strong? Have you not met Bourbon? It’s quite the opposite when you do it correctly and the fascination of those delectable flavors is nothing in comparison to the wild fascination we now have with Asian cuisine. It’s an invasion of Asian flavors and your palate will say, “thank you, I feel exotic.” It’s why Americans have fallen in love with global and cultural cuisine.

There is such a range of Asian flavors and a comprehensive variety of ingredients, so to simplify with pairings, focus on the classic sauces and additions of flavors added to make your dish what it is. The core of the meat, fish, chicken, rice or noodles is secondary in comparison to the pronounced effect these sauces or pastes establish. We will focus on four distinctive and diverse ingredients to your everyday Asian condiments: soy sauce, teriyaki, chili sauce and wasabi.

Just like Bourbon, when conducting a food pairing, begin with the lighter side of the spectrum and work your way to the ‘takeover’ heavier flavors so your palate has a chance to graduate. The rest speaks for itself.

TERIYAKI SAUCE

It is more heavily flavored and blends sweet and salty. To taste Teriyaki in pure form, I can delineate garlic and ginger and sesame. Some Teriyaki can even have touches of citrus notes. Many a marinade is used with Teriyaki because it does not overpower the meat, but instead glazes and fine tunes bringing out a raised kaleidoscope of tastes.

SOY SAUCE

Savory and salty. Soy sauce is used as a condiment in most instances, like adding bitters to your cocktail, or salt to your soup; yet has its own distinguishable taste. It is made from fermented soybeans, salt, water and sometimes roasted grains (I like that connection of grains with the grains of the whiskey). Always highlighted on the palate is earthy, umami flavor (umami is known as the fifth flavor sense). I consider it an all-purpose seasoning. It is a flavor-enhancer and really amplifies the cuisine.

ASIAN CHILI SAUCE

You can see the hot red chilis that are blended in a great Asian chili sauce and have varying levels of heat intensity. Here we have the sweet and spicy combo, as sugar, garlic and herbs may be blended with the peppers to provide a nice balance. Dipping sauces galore have chili sauce on the side of dishes.

WASABI

Put on your seatbelt because when wasabi is in pure form, it is just like a truly souped up Japanese horseradish. It’s hard to believe it is a relative to the watercress family, as watercress is light. Sometimes blended in soy sauce to add the sing to your sushi or blended with mayonnaise for a racier sandwich. Wasabi is a root and can be shaved, but many people may just mix horseradish, mustard and soy sauce to mimic the flavor.

So, what is our end game with Asian food and Bourbon? I was taught a very long time ago that the end game with tasting and sampling Bourbon was to create complexity with pronounced individual flavors, yet establish ‘harmony’, so the flavors all play nice. The very same applies to this Asian application. With this wide variety of bold and intense to savory and subtle, pull out the Bourbons that will play nice with these international flavors. Always taste the Bourbon first and profile for its distinctive characteristics and then the food flavors. The intricate puzzle pieces begin to reveal themselves. What do I want from the myriad of Asian flavors and Bourbon? Complexity and harmony are the goal, so rate the intensity and go for the big caramel and sweet, yet complex Bourbons to envelop and tame the Asian flavors to produce a unique and desirably deep taste.

Quickly you establish a pairing that will lay the foundation to the Asian dish. When the meat, fish, or chicken is added, umami abounds and brings the earthy goodness that plays nicely to the umami essence of the Asian condiments. 

Go extra with the basil, lemongrass, coriander and sesame based on how you wish to punctuate and accentuate the herbaceous notes of the Bourbon.

Pairing Asian food with Bourbon is not like learning Chinese math (no pun intended). It is truly straightforward when you focus on the flavors and develop the breakdown of profiles to heighten the harmony. Enjoy the virtual trip around the world with your senses and explore the truly exotic flavors that Bourbon can bring to Asian cuisine. 

This, by the way, is also the fun part.

Below we have chosen the following Bourbons:

Old Forester 86 proof

• Caramel
• Pecan
• Vanilla
• Chocolate
• Soft black pepper
• Banana
• Slight licorice

Rowans Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 100 proof

• Marshmallow
• Subtle Ginger
• Honey
• Citrus
• Chocolate
• Leather
• Raisin
• Apple

Now, dare to compare.  Allow the Asian flavors to rear their head and create spikes, then take a sip of perfectly paired Bourbon to tame. 

Treaty Oak – Full of firsts

The fourth Texas distillery that’s leading the way 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

Having a home like this helps to bring you into the fold of other distilleries,” says Treaty Oak Distilling founder, Daniel Barnes. “It gives it that realness. That, and actually making good Bourbon.”

Back in 2006, Barnes opened the first iteration of Treaty Oak in an industrial area of North Austin, Texas. His father-in-law built his first still, which was open-fired like a turkey fryer.

“We only caught it on fire twice,” he laughs.

Today there are Vendome copper pot stills, and a column still on the way, in addition to brewery equipment. While the primary focus of Treaty Oak today is Bourbon and rye, they also make several gins, beer, and more.

IMGP5010 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Barnes had been drinking Bourbon since the 90s, and his favorite back then was Basil Hayden’s. He had been in charge of food and beverage for a large hotel chain starting when he was in his early twenties, and had a great appreciation for foodways and food and beverage education. Then he began to realize there was a way to tie his love of food and beverage into a distillery.

“I see our economy as being upside down – food and education makes the least and it should really be the other way around,” says Barnes. “I saw the distillery as the perfect agricultural opportunity.”

Getting in on the ground floor of post-Prohibition spirits in Texas

Treaty Oak was the fourth distillery in Texas since Prohibition, but they were full of firsts. They were the first to ferment and distil, first using molasses and later using grains. They were the first distillery in Texas to distil rum and gin and the first distillery in Austin to distill whiskey, though Barnes points out they were not the first to sell their whiskey because he didn’t see those early batches fit to sell, an admirable and rare thing to see among craft distillers.

There were two locations in industrial areas of North Austin before Barnes bought the current ranch property in nearby Dripping Springs in 2013. The distillery building was built first, followed by the rick house and then the restaurant. Today there are buildings dotting the property, from the food truck to the cocktail bar, to the cocktail lab. Weekends are particularly busy at the distillery because there is live music and they bring in nearby vendors, like Smoky’s Mobile Cigar Lounge. The distillery becomes a weekend destination for the young professionals living in Austin and in fact the locals have nicknamed Dripping Springs ‘Drinking Springs’ for the mass of distilleries and breweries that have popped up in the area. Alice’s, the on-site restaurant named for the founder’s mother, is a culinary destination in its own right.

IMGP4994 courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Today this one time one man operation has grown to include over a dozen employees, including his business partner and longtime friend Nate Powell. Powell’s current title is VP of Sales, but as with many folks who work in small businesses he wears many hats.

I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisnal crafting job working with a team

“I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisanal crafting job working with a team that was passionate about what they do,” says Powell. “It took 12 years to finally have all the pieces in place, that was phase one. Phase two is going to be harder, but it’s going to be a lot more rewarding. The next three to five years it’s going to be about, how do I get every single person I meet to walk away with the same feeling about our product and story that I have.”

Powell’s job takes him on the road opening up new markets to Treaty Oak’s products.

Many of the spirits selling under Treaty Oak’s labels are sourced, but the team has always done their best to be transparent about that. The Red-Handed line of products are sourced, but the Ghost Hill line of products are made right there at Treaty Oak. There’s always room for experimentation, and there’s even an upcoming series called the Graveyard Series that has been buried underground to age for a couple of years in an attempt to learn how underground aging is different.

Entering the next phase of growth, no looking back

Because of the emphasis on foodways and agriculture, Barnes has made some good friends and allies within the local community. One such ally is James Brown, who Barnes and Powell lovingly refer to as the “Godfather of Corn.” Brown runs the local mill and is heavily involved in farming within the community. He recently brought back Oaxacan Green corn from the brink of extinction by purchasing the last few pounds of seed available and planting it in the middle of a large plot, so as to keep open pollination at bay. 

Next, he’s going to be opening a gristmill on Treaty Oak’s property to ensure a steady supply of ground grains for the distillery.

IMGP4978 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Production kinks are running smoothly, and there’s now a steady supply of aged whiskey to sell, which means Treaty Oak is moving into its next growth phase. 

“Being in a place where we know we have a grain to glass Bourbon and having a steady supply, that’s really nice to see coming to fruition,” says Barnes.

“We talk about Kentucky Bourbon and we drink Kentucky Bourbon. That’s what got us started,” says Powell. “I want people to understand that Treaty Oak has a tremendous amount of respect for what Bourbon is. We want people to have that in mind when they are drinking our products. It’s a tribute to that heritage. This is our expression of Bourbon, but it’s a Bourbon with its own nuances and personality.”

Treaty Oak recently launched its gins in seven new states.

“We strive to strike the perfect balance between heritage and innovation,” said Barnes in a press release. “Our willingness to be different based on knowledge and expertise is what sets us apart.”

There’s collaboration in the future, with a partnership with Mahalo spirits, which also partners with Bardstown Bourbon Company.

Treaty Oak is certainly a distillery to keep your eye on.