Chuck Cowdery/Photo: F Minnick
By David Hammond
Chuck Cowdery is a world-renowned, Chicago-based whiskey writer and the author of several books, including his recent: “Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey.” He is a Kentucky Colonel and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.
We met up with Cowdery last spring in Louisville, where we both attended a series of events related to the Bourbon Classic, a celebration of America’s native spirit. As the snow starts to fly in Chicago, we sought Cowdery’s advice as to what bourbon we should be considering as we nestle into winter.
Let’s say I’m a bourbon beginner. What three bourbons do I really need to have—and why do I need to have them?
Maker’s Mark is a good place to start. The mild, wheated bourbon recipe, which contains no rye, makes this bourbon easy to drink. If you find Maker’s Mark too harsh, you’ll probably never like bourbon. Buffalo Trace is a more traditional rye-recipe bourbon but very well-balanced. If you like both of those, try Bulleit Bourbon. It contains twice as much rye as most rye-recipe bourbons. If you like all three, then you’re ready to try everything else. Read the rest of this entry »
By Charlie Puckett
The alley air outside of a whitewashed, re-appropriated chop-shop is swollen with the warm blunt smell of grains and botanicals turned into award-winning gins and whiskeys. Inside, Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller at Few Spirits, boils the waters, more than a thousand casks after his first distillation in 2011, to make some of Chicago’s most notable artisanal spirits.
As a resident of Evanston, once the incubator for America’s infamous Woman’s Christian Temperance movement, Hletko especially understands the high threshold for success a nascent craft distiller faces no matter which city they call home. It’s as if the weather of the temperance movement, decades since past, still alters the national dew point in the way that start-up distilleries are still few in number and face high infant mortality rates. According to a survey conducted by the American Distilling Institute, approximately 208 craft distilleries currently operate nationwide as of mid-2012, a featherweight comparison to the hundreds of thousands of stills operating prior to Prohibition. “The greatest success so far is that we still have our lights on,” Hletko says. “In our business world, the first two years are the toughest, and we just hit our second year.” Read the rest of this entry »
Vodka just got a little gayer. Halsted Vodka, which launched last month, gives fifteen percent of its profits to local GLBT charities in Chicago. Now after three years of development, it’s spreading from the gay bars to the rest of Chicago and beyond. Jennifer Schulze, one of Halsted Vodka’s five founders, explains how they got started and where the brand is headed.
What came first, the idea for vodka or the idea to give back to the LGBT community?
We were looking for a way to give back to the LGBT community. We did a lot of research and a lot of focus groups to come up with the product that has the most impact, and that led us to vodka. The gay community drinks more vodka than anybody else. It’s a huge part of the social fabric in a very positive, celebratory way. It is the spirit of choice in the community, so that’s how we ended up vodka. Read the rest of this entry »
“It’s nice being the prettiest girl at the dance,” laughs Wes Henderson. The day is excruciatingly hot, but we’re secreted underground in the new River North speakeasy-style bar and restaurant Untitled—as safe from the heat as we would have been from the cops almost a hundred years ago. Henderson isn’t talking about a new dress, but Angel’s Envy, the craft bourbon he produces with his father, master distiller Lincoln Henderson, and his son Kyle.
“We wanted to do something different,” explains Lincoln. The elder Henderson spent four decades at the distilling giant Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s, among other brands. As Lincoln knows well, the industry standard for bourbon has always held that “a bourbon had to be very robust. When I say robust, that means it had to have a lot of wood in it.” Read the rest of this entry »
Over a year ago, Booze Muse published an article about the uphill battle that cachaça was fighting with The United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau over the commercial name of their national spirit. The liquor was labeled “Brazilian Rum,” to the detriment and embarrassment of fans, connoisseurs and producers, who argued that although cachaça bore some resemblance to the Caribbean favorite, the denomination was, as Leblon’s Steve Luttmann, stated then, misleading to say the least. “The issue is when consumers read ‘Brazilian rum’ on the label, they expect it to taste like rum,” he said. “Consumers taste it and find out that it really isn’t rum, and this creates a lot of consumer confusion.” Both liquors originate from sugar cane, but rum is distilled from molasses, whereas cachaça is distilled from fresh sugarcane. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ernest Barteldes
A decade or so ago, the açaí berry was starting to get a lot of attention in Brazil, where many began consuming its pulp in a bowl mixed with granola or other ingredients to benefit from its antioxidant and energetic properties.
Word spread quickly, and soon the fruit—which is taken from palm trees that grow natively in the Amazon region—made its way to the United States market. The first company to exploit it stateside was Sambazon, an American company that specializes in exotic tropical fruit. Açaí has come to be regarded as a “super fruit” that is now featured in dozens of products, going from fruit smoothies to dietary supplements, conditioners and açaí-infused vodkas by Absolut and VeeV—the latter of which is used to make the “Veev a Loca” martini at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »
Can’t figure out what to drink while listening to music on Spotify? There’s a website for that. It’s called Drinkify.
Drinkify.org was “created in twenty-four boozy hours ” by Hannah Donovan, Lindsay Eyink and Matthew Ogle. They all met each other through music jobs at Last.fm and iTunes. At the event Music Hack Day in Boston they came up with the idea of combining music and alcohol— perhaps sparked by Donovan’s epic hangover from the night before.
Drinkify attempts to pair whatever song you’re playing with the perfect cocktail recipe. Just type in the artist, song or band, hit the “What should I drink?” and bam: Cocktail recipe. Read the rest of this entry »
Korean nationals certainly take pride in soju, their widely consumed national spirit that is ubiquitous in Korean-American communities throughout the country and is enjoyed in a variety of ways—chilled or mixed with a number of beverages, including bek-seju (a strong ginger-spiced wine), yogurt or even beer.
Soju is the second most consumed spirit in the world (according to a recent report by Forbes magazine), but when you bring it up around westerners not hip to Asian drinks, few have even heard of it. This is bound to change, since large producers like Jinro and Charm have been hard at work introducing the spirit to American audiences. Read the rest of this entry »
A decade ago, ordering a caipirinha outside the Brazilian enclaves in South Florida or New York would puzzle most bartenders. However, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of producers, the now-ubiquitous cocktail (made with cachaça, lime and muddled sugar) can be ordered in places as diverse as Café Laguardia, Al Primo Canto, Café 28 or Karyn’s on Green.
“Caipirinha has been the object of intense experimentation by bartenders and mixologists in the US,” explains Vicente Ribeiro of Fazenda Soledade in Rio de Janeiro. “A larger variety of fruits have demonstrated cachaça can be as versatile as vodka, albeit with a higher complexity of aromas and flavors.”
“When we started in 2005, awareness was less than one percent of cocktail consumers,” explains Steve Luttmann of Leblon, one of the major premium brands commercialized in the United States. Awareness of cachaça among cocktail consumers is now nearly twenty percent in the major markets (New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami). The caipirinha, with thirty-percent awareness, is now one of the top-ten cocktails on menus, and was the fastest-growing cocktail in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Renata Baluk
By Ernest Barteldes
The New York Bar and Wine Show, an annual two-day convention that takes place at Midtown Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, showcases what’s new in the beverage industry, from special registers wirelessly attached to bottles (to better control the drinks sold) to novelties like a Russian roulette-style game wherein a plastic revolver has a chamber that releases a shot of liquor to the lucky ‘winner’—if the ‘loaded’ chamber ends up in his or her hand (think bachelor parties and dorm rooms, if you’re wondering who would do this).
But the greatest attraction is, of course, the booze, and this year’s event had plenty, ranging from new liquor brands, international beers and wines to the latest ideas in mixology presented by different bartenders from all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »