Saturday, January 2, 2021

Using Whisky To Time Travel Will Physically Rewire Your Brain's Structure: A How-To Guide

Mastering Whiskey to Reshape your Brain's Right Insula and Entorhinal Cortex

What does it take to become accomplished at anything and why does it matter?  Expertise isn't only about the possession of skill or knowledge.  It turns out that it affects the way you experience sensation and process thought and that changes everything.  This sounds like hyperbole, but I'm being completely serious.  I mean it literally and I have the science to back it up (well... maybe).  And, in a very Coopered Tot kind of way, I'm not going to stop there.  I'm going to tell you how to develop whisky expertise yourself and have it expand your consciousness in a way that will literally re-wire your brain.  And doing so will be pleasurable and easy and won't require a lick of reading (not counting the untold thousands of words here!)  This is some high-grade wisdom, and like any kind of wisdom, it requires a bit of work to understand and implement fully, so I'm going to take you on a journey.   First I'm going to give you a poetic example of what I'm talking about before we get to the empirical stuff.  Why?  Ask deceased neuro-science-popularizing genius Douglas Hofstadter who explains how dendritic mappings in the brain give rise to consciousness and self-awareness in his classic book "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" but first makes you do a lot of philosophy of logic exercises with paper and pen and then read a lot of poetic stuff about Zen and parables and Greek philosophers and mathematics and music and art first.  He wasn't just being a jerk.  He wants the conclusion to resonate with a larger part of your mind than just the language centers where you'll process his verbal arguments.  He wants you to put down a layer of visceral experience so that later when the conclusions hit, they will vibrate the whole complex of associated experiences like a bell and the experience will be powerful and immersive.  And, patient readers, that's the whole point of the exercise here too.

I'm going to relate a portion of an essay here that I titled "Whisky is a Time Traveler".  I wrote it back in 2012 for Islay Wild & Magic impresario Rachel MacNeill's blog "Whisky for Girls" (it's now ).  It's an essay about how *I* drink whisky - but it's also an essay about a certain kind of mindfulness.  It illustrates a point that I'll raise later, but I'm hoping it will be thought-provoking along the way in its own right:

Whisky Is A Time Traveler

Everyone drinks whisky in their own personal way.  When I drink whisky I try to slow down and focus very clearly and intensely on what is going on in the glass - as the dram interacts with time and air and water and my shifting and evolving human palate.  Part of that appreciation includes knowing the larger context which radiates in like a ring from particulars such as what distillery made it, the nature of the water, what proof, which grains were used, how they were malted and handled, the differnt tree woods used in barrel aging and what other beverages were previously aged in those barrels and so on.  Because I like to drink a lot of antique spirits I think about the era they were made, the people involved, the aesthetics and intentions of the crafters.  But the flavors also lead me to think about the land, sea, the odors of the air in the places where grain was grown, distillation happened and barrels matured.  Whisky is a distillate of mash, but it is also a distillate of the physical environment of where it was made and of where its components came from: of the fields of grain, the water, wood, fuels, breezes and the weather.  It is also a distillate of the hands and minds that made it.  The spirit, culture and decisions and actions of the people who designed and executed the recipe you end up tasting.  The distillate is a concentrated essence of these physical and also human elements which are preserved in the glass bottle as a fly is in a piece of amber.

Valentine Distilling Co. - Ferndale, MI

We inhabit a particular time and place.  The exact meaning of both of these terms are controversial topics in the fields of theoretical physics and philosophy - but everyone has a clear and solid feeling of what it is.  We also have knowledge of other times and other places.  We read history, see accounts, visit museums and encounter artifacts and depictions.  While the power of the abstract is vast, we relate most to the specific.  Scientists have plumbed the reaches of the cosmos with theoretical models describe the physical nature of the universe back to within instants of the big bang.  But our most intimate knowledge of distant times and places comes from direct physical evidence.  These bits and pieces of other times and places take many forms: representations such as documents, records, photographs or artistic representations; or actual things holding the physical essence of time and place; sometimes both.

"Blueberry" deposits on the surface of Mars - NASA

Things like this have been a source of fascination, desire, and obsession for me for as long as I can remember:  they are time travelers with the power to take you back to their origins.  Coins, documents, ancient artifacts, fossils, mineral specimens meteorites all provide direct experience of distant times and/or places.  These things are time travelers because they were made in a particular time and place and they embody and convey that to us.  Some connect directly and forcefully to the past.  For example I have an ancient Minoan pot shard with a fingerprint on it.  It's a tangible physical connection to a moment in time when a potter gripped the clay over 3,000 years ago.  The presence of the fingerprint brings home in an immediately obvious and visceral way that a human being touched this actual bit of clay when it was wet on a particular day, feeling a particular mood in a vanished time, a vanished culture, a vanished world.  

Once you feel how an object can allow you to make a physical connection with distant times and places you’ll find these connection points everywhere.  My old lobby was lined with marble with clam shells in it.  I was aware that these were once living clams in a living sea over a quarter of a billion years ago.  I have a quartz crystal from New York's Herkimer County mines with an inclusion that is water.  You can tell it is water because inside the water is a tiny bubble.  When you move the crystal the right way the bubble moves.  The rocks there are dated to the Cambrian - over 500 million years old.  I'm entranced that the little air bubble has been there, fighting the water and exchanging molecules back and forth with it for half a billion years.  Inside chondritic meteorites you can see the grains of rock and metal that formed from the collapsing dust cloud that formed the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.  These objects speak to me and I feel the distances of time with an almost physical force.  At times this has been almost like vertigo.  When the NASA rover Opportunity found hematite "blueberries" lying on a rock on Mars I was 
viscerally aware that they had crystallized out of the evaporating Martian ocean over 3 billion years ago and had just laid there - undisturbed - for unimaginable eons.  Somehow that vast ocean of time that those little pebbles had just sat there on that rock seemed overwhelming, almost horrifying - out of scale with anything living or even comprehensible. 

I work in a museum that has an astounding collection of manuscripts and books.  One of the perks of my job is the occasional opportunity to closely encounter amazing objects such as medieval illuminated manuscripts.  Over time, as I have learned more about the materials and methods of medieval illuminators, and of their culture, world view, and intensely complicated system of visual metaphor and iconography I experienced a transformation in the way I have come to see these manuscripts.  At first, I saw a depiction, like a cartoon.  Now I experience being in the same place (i.e. in front of the page) as an illuminator centuries ago.  I can see his brush lines, pounce marks, and drafting lines.  I can sense his creative struggle and more deeply appreciate his genius and his deeper message.  In the moment of reverie of such observations, I’m, briefly, no longer in the room, or even my time.  I’m at the cloister, in an illusory way, centuries ago, as his hand is creating the manuscript.

Morgan Library - Las Huelgas Apocalypse (detail)


Well, whisky is a time-traveling physical talisman too.  I am moved when I taste a meadow and summer's day from a far off time when drinking certain old whiskies.  Here is a tasting note from a dram of Dallas Dhu 12, purchased in 1998 and sipped in 2012:

"Nose: Heather, flax, honeyed sherry, vanilla oak notes. There's a distant herbal vegetal note like milkweed sap that is bracing. I would characterize it as wildflowers in lush grass near some oak woods on a dry hot summer's day. Given the context (that the distillery closed in 1983 and that I bought the bottle in 1998 on the eve of my wedding) this is an echo of summer's day from a time far off, when I was young... when things were different"

That feeling I’m describing is an awareness that this whisky was distilled when I was a senior in High School, a year before I moved to New York City and met the girl who would one day become my wife.  Before jobs, children, or even whisky, entered my life.  The Sun was shining on that barley and that meadow was there.  Tasting that dram literally takes me there.  It’s not mysterious in any way.  Yet it is absolutely magic: real perceptual time travel that anyone can experience with a simple shift in mental perspective.

To time travel with a dram is about awareness.  The cues to time and space in whisky are subtle, underneath the more obvious factors such as spirit, sweet and wood.  Our minds have evolved to constantly pick out the most salient feature in any circumstance and skip the rest.  In normal situations this is a benefit, otherwise we would be overwhelmed by the flood of sensations that surrounds us most of the time.  In order to really experience a dram fully it is necessary to eliminate distractions and let the dram fill up your perceptions.

A wonderful blog post on this topic is Jason Debley's Slow-Whisky movement:

It's an essay on the zen meditative approach to drinking a dram.  The ultimate goal is, for me, to understand the whisky on its own terms as it evolves in the glass through interaction with air, time, (and water - if you go there - and I often do) and progresses across your palate. And then to understand how this in-the-glass evolution and the on-your-palate progression fits into the larger context of your perception, desire, tastes, and cognition.  This should lead you to a deeper sense of your dram’s significance in a larger context.

However, Jason’s excellent article leaves out one important technique that I find vital for detecting the minute details necessary to fully plumbing the depths of a dram: that is detailed observation for representation, i.e. writing out your tasting notes.  Writing out your tasting notes is a very useful enterprise.  I got the idea from sketching what you see in the telescope's eyepiece in amateur astronomy.  In astronomy, you are supposed to sketch, not just to keep a record of what you have seen - but also as a way to induce you really LOOK.  When you observe merely to satisfy your conscious mind you gloss over details.  The evolved ability to identify the salient detail and not bothering to perceive the rest is very active in the visual sense.  The act of recording the observation causes you to observe more deeply - to actually pay attention to the subtle details that you may not have bothered to really notice visually, but suddenly need in order to flesh out your depiction on the paper.  All this goes double for tasting whisky.  Like astronomy, whisky tasting is best done in solitude, at night, in the quiet still and dark.  And like the astronomy eyepiece, the whisky glass is circular porthole into the depths of time and space and the deepest mysteries of the universe.  The act of sketching actually forces you to truly OBSERVE.  Thus take notes when you critically taste.  Tasting (a fusion of the sense of nose and tongue) is tied deeply to the limbic system - the most primitive interior “reptile brain” beneath our cerebral cortex.  These areas of the brain are more tied to the subconscious than the conscious.  This can be a drawback for awareness - but also a secret strength.  Certain smells and flavors can powerfully evoke distant memories and visceral sensations, seemly mysteriously, by exploiting these limbic pathways.  Thus it is extremely difficult to put words to flavors and smells - but the act of attempting to do so forces you to focus on the details of what is flying beneath your radar.  This is the power of meditation to increase awareness: they key to observing the most subtle cues connecting what’s in the dram to what’s in your mind and body.  

When you really listen, you’ll find that the whisky is telling you a story.


What in the world am I getting at with that long-winded story?  It's simply this: that my experiences of the flavors are affected by the constellation of associations that I've developed around what those flavors **mean**.  For me, the nexus of that meaning is **history**.  A couple of years ago I had the wonderful experience of drinking with gifted distiller Lisa Roper Wicker.  She had a whole set of associations that were different than mine - but even more useful.  She knew the specific chemical compounds that were associated with the flavors I was getting and understood the production-level reasons for those compounds.  It's entirely reasonable that her experience trying to influence the crafting of spirits - from mashing through distillation and maturation - would give her a lexicon for those flavor components related to the details of whiskey production.  I've had similar experience drinking with other distillers - particularly Chip Tate who is notably articulate about both the flavor and the process to get them.  In thinking about this stuff I went back re-read Jason Debly's "Slow Whiskey" blog post and noticed that I had written the following in the comments below:

"Writing out your tasting notes is a very useful enterprise. I got the idea from sketching what you see in the telescope's eyepiece "n amateur astronomy. You are supposed to sketch, not just to keep a record of what you have seen - but also as a way to induce you really LOOK. When you observe merely to satisfy your conscious mind you gloss over details. Our minds have evolved to constantly pick out the most salient feature and skip the rest. The act of recording the observation causes you to observe more deeply - to actually pay attention to the details that you suddenly need in order to flesh out your depiction."

Like astronomy, whisky tasting is best done in solitude, at night, in the quiet still and dark. And like the astronomy eyepiece, the whisky glass is circular porthole into the depths of time and space and the deepest mysteries of the universe. The act of sketching actually forces you to truly OBSERVE. Thus take notes when you critically taste."

He replied:  

"Joshua, I hear where you are coming from, but for me, the act of writing or note taking would distract from the experience. I would quickly become worried that my notes are not 'correct' or missing something."

"But, for you this is not the case. And that, my friend is totally okay. It's all up to the individual."

Jason Debly's response is quintessentially Zen.  He wants you to be lost in a sea of pure experience.  In Zen, words for things get in the way by putting a layer of abstraction between you and the experience itself.  Debly wants you to fully self-immerse in the experience without the screen of abstractions that language demands - that process of arbitrarily putting experiences into the pigeon holes of words.  But my position is based on the observation that people's first memories always seem to date back to the time they begin speaking in complete sentences.  I believe that language provides the structural cognitive framework for memory and that's a part of rewiring your brain.

Blogger and author Kurt Maitland (right) tastes with joy.

Rewiring Your Brain By Critically Tasting Your Drams

I received an article in an email from a fascinating and talented artist named Cindy Morefield (click the link to see her extraordinary art). It was written by one Ann-Sophie Barwich, a scientist who studies the neuropsychology of sensations, particularly smell.  She wrote a fascinating article on this topic titled:
"Becoming an expert in anything, whether it’s wine tasting or mathematics, changes the way you perceive the world."

In this article, she's talking about wine tasting - but you can see how everything she says is directly applicable to whisky tasting too:

James opened this for me. Gratitude.

"Lots of people think of wine tasting as a scam. But wine tasting is a true scientific art—it’s just that words sometimes get in the way of it being taken seriously. Gasoline-smelling wines do not contain petrol per se—we hope—but often share compounds with another substance with a recognizable aroma. The brains of sommeliers learn how to link categories of sensory experience (i.e., “this smells like petrol”) to qualitative categories of specific chemical compounds. Aged Riesling, for example, contains TDN (short for 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene), a compound with the aroma of petrol. TDN is a result of carotenoids (organic pigments found in many foods, including grapes) breaking down, a process accelerated by higher temperatures. Many odd wine descriptors, including “rubber hose” and—yes—“cat’s piss,” can be identified as a specific chemical compound by expert noses. In the case of cat’s piss, it’s the compound pyrazine found in Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine has several hundred aroma compounds, which is more molecular information than most of our brains have the ability to compute. Sommeliers have learned how to direct their sensory spotlight to identify specific compounds in a complex mixture. They have trained themselves to be extremely good at discriminating and identifying individual aromas and aroma patterns. The best wine experts can identify a vintage down to its specific vineyard and even year with a virtuosity that can occasionally take less than a minute. 

Acquiring this skillset not only makes sommeliers a knowledgeable (if not sometimes exasperating) dinner-party guest. It actually alters the structure and activity of their brains. 

Comparing the brain of a mathematician with that of a sommelier, we find remarkable similarities. In both cases, the cellular density of white and gray matter in designated areas increases. Whether it’s sniffing Syrah or performing calculus, the acquisition of expertise makes  parts of the brain thicker. In mathematicians, for example, one of the most prominent changes in the density of gray matter is found in the superior frontal gyrus, an area also linked with the coordination of self-awareness and, most intriguing, laughter. In comparison, changes in sommeliers’ brain volume were found in the right insula and entorhinal cortex, areas that are notably involved in memory processing. Such changes in neural density give those areas enhanced cortical connectivity and signaling speed, as the synaptic connections by which neurons communicate become more tightly packed. A consequence of increased neural density is that dedicated specialized areas of the brain better integrate and orchestrate otherwise widespread neural activity. Expertise of any kind results in a more sophisticated communication architecture of the brain. "

In that article, she refers back to a famous and important paper about how London cab drivers have differences in the physical structure of their brains caused by learning the spatial layout of London's crazy streets.  From the abstract:

"Structural MRIs of the brains of humans with extensive navigation experience, licensed London taxi drivers, were analyzed and compared with those of control subjects who did not drive taxis. The posterior hippocampi of taxi drivers were significantly larger relative to those of control subjects. A more anterior hippocampal region was larger in control subjects than in taxi drivers. Hippocampal volume correlated with the amount of time spent as a taxi driver (positively in the posterior and negatively in the anterior hippocampus). These data are in accordance with the idea that the posterior hippocampus stores a spatial representation of the environment and can expand regionally to accommodate elaboration of this representation in people with a high dependence on navigational skills. It seems that there is a capacity for local plastic change in the structure of the healthy adult human brain in response to environmental demands. ..."

Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers
Eleanor A. Maguire, David G. Gadian, Ingrid S. Johnsrude, Catriona D. Good, John Ashburner, Richard S. J. Frackowiak, and Christopher D. Frith

PNAS April 11, 2000 97 (8) 4398-4403;

Ann-Sophie Barwich's Wiki page explains:  She "is a cognitive scientist, an empirical philosopher, and an historian of science. She is an Assistant Professor with joint positions in the Cognitive Science Program[1] and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science[2] at Indiana University Bloomington. Barwich is best known for her interdisciplinary[3] work on the history, philosophy, and neuroscience of olfaction. Her book, Smellosophy: What the Nose tells the Mind,[4] highlights the importance of thinking about the sense of smell as a model for neuroscience and the senses.[5][6][7][8][9] She is also noted for her analyses on methodological issues in molecular biology[10] and neuroscience."

So she is well-positioned to take the cab driver result and apply it to the subject of whether critical tasting does the same thing to sommelier's brains (but in the areas of sensory perception, rather than spatial memory).  But there is a surprise here: 

"But here’s the paradox. When an expert’s brain grows, they also use less of it. The more proficient you are at wine tasting, the less activity we’ll see in your brain’s fMRI recording, as reported in a scientific study from 2014. If you’re processing more information, though, how are you using your brain less? This observation is less puzzling if you compare your brain to the body of an athlete. You’ll need to put in less overall effort to lift weights if your body is trained to do so routinely. With practice, some brain activities become “automatized” and, according to the neuroscientist Christof Koch, resemble a “zombie agent”—meaning these processes require less and less conscious effort and attention. 

So do sommeliers become merely better at memorizing patterns, like in the legendary study of hippocampi in London cab drivers, or do they also get better at the sensory part of smelling itself? The answer is both. Notably, a sommelier’s skill is not exclusively a method of memory (this is what a Cabernet Sauvignon typically smells like, and that is the aroma profile of a Barolo). Training further enhances their ability to be more receptive to aromas in a mixture: the sensitivity to odors changes with repeated exposure.   

Yet the real surprise is this: The previously mentioned 2014 fMRI study on expert sommeliers suggests that sensory expertise modifies your experience of reality—it affects not just the ability to identify and recall things on a cognitive level, but also consciousness itself. During tasting, the scientists observed activation in the brain stem of experts but not in novices. This finding (which is still being further explored) implies a difference in how sensory information is integrated into the cortical cognitive activity of experts and novices. Engaging with your perception on an analytical level thus makes a difference in the quality of your experience by fine-tuning your brain to its input (and having it reorganize its neural story to match). 

You get more control of the quality and content of your own conscious experience … by thinking while drinking wine.
(emphasis - my own)

Ann-Sophie Barwich (and I'm beginning to think she might actually be a Bar Witch) is telling us that doing the word of developing the perceiving part of our mind will, like a muscle you work in the gym, make it stronger.  But that, like the muscle you've developed in the gym, you'll work it less hard to do the same work in the future. So what?  Remember we're not talking about actual muscles with this metaphor; we are talking about the perceiving part of your brain.  And once you've developed that part of your brain it will be operational with absolutely everything you use that part of your brain for: tasting, perceiving, seeing patterns and finding meaning in them.  It's about awareness and perception.  And that brings us back to Zen.  You will become more fully present and you will make deeper associations the more you grow in this way.

So, how to proceed?  The answer is simple.  Drink mindfully and in a way that engages with your passion.  For Lisa Roper Wicker and Chip Tate that involves knowing the molecular compounds involved in flavors and how the process of making whisky creates or destroys them.  For me, it's finding history in the time, place, culture, and people involved in the liquid.  For Jason Debly it's pure Zen: experience without words.  

Let's take Jason Debly's "Slow Whisky Movement" tenets as our guide for what to do:

Tenets of the Slow-Whisky Movement

No. 1:  A couple of hours after your last, non-spicy meal, seek out a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.  Preferably in the evening when your abode is quiet.  No T.V. or radio.  Blackberry, smartphones, turned off and preferably buried in the backyard.  Get comfortably ensconced in your favorite chair.  Next to you will be a glass with 1 1/2 oz of your favorite comfort scotch or whisky of the moment.  Make sure it is what you want, not some recommendation of a fool whisky blogger or a critic's windy must-buy malt suggestion of the moment.

No. 2:  Close your eyes.  Focus on your breathing.  Listen to it.  When your mind wanders, come back to your breathing.  Just be aware of it.  If a thought comes into your head, that's ok, but again, be conscious of your breathing.  

No. 3:  Reach for your glass of whisky.  Hold the glass and look at the color of the whisky.  Is it dark?  Light?  Reddish?  Really look at it.  Don't worry about the 'proper vocabulary' because there isn't any.  Just you and a glass of whisky.   Bring the rim of the glass to your nose.  Close your eyes and gently sniff twice and move the rim of the glass away.  What do you think of?  Old leather books?  Grandpa's steaming tea in a Thermos?  Cherry pipe tobacco?  The sea?  Eucalyptus oil?  Hospital bandages and pungent ointment?  Bring the glass back for one more sniff.  Again, do some free association?  

No. 4:    Eyes closed, take the tiniest of sips.  How does the spirit behave on the palate?  Sweet?  Sharp?   Spicy?  What else is there?  Cherries?  Oak?  Honey and sea salt?  Kosher pretzel.  Let your mind wander into the past to good thoughts.  Childhood food and baked goods.  Note the range of flavors.  Marvel at them.

No. 5:  Swallow.  What remains?  Smoke?  Iodine?  Coarse salt?  Malty notes?  Spiced honey and oat cakes?  Balsa wood?

No. 6:  Slowly repeat steps 3 through 5 until your 1 1/2 oz dram serving is gone.  Once it is gone there will be no refills.  One key aspect of the 'slow-whisky' movement is the restriction of your enjoyment to one modest serving of whisky.  In this way, you will relish and catalogue in your mind every nuance, fabric, weave of flavors of the spirit.  Remember!  No refills.

Follow these main tenets and drinking any whisky will be a much more immediate and special experience.  You will experience a greater range of flavors, that would be lost with subsequent refills.

Taken from Jason Debly's "Scotch Whisky Reviews" blog post:

Follow your passion and be open to how it informs your perception of the whisky.  Write notes - or don't - but be mindful about it and integrate all your thinking and bring it to bear on the dram in the dram in your glass.  In the end, it's about really being in the moment.  Instead of using a koan - a sound or word like "OM" to take you out of your head and allow you to be meditatively present - really present - in the present, I'm suggesting you use mindfully inhabiting the rich tapestry of flavors and aromas in your glass.  Make whisky your koan.  Like all paths to wisdom, you have to find your particular path yourself - because it is unique to you. But in doing so you'll be changing the actual physical structure of your brain in a way that will change the way your perceive and that will change who you are.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Elijah Craig's Shift to NAS: A Decline? The Krav Organizes An Empirical Test

A fascinating vertical tasting of Elijah Craig 12 & NAS bottlings.
Photo by Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls blog.
The bottles above as blind samples poured and ready to go on my table.
Elijah Craig was one of my favorite daily pours back in the day.  It was good Bourbon and, perhaps coincidentally - or perhaps not, it was a 12 years old age-stated product.  Then a familiar pattern unfolded: popularity drove the product towards scarcity and Heaven Hill opted to remove the age statement so they could goose the production volume to keep it from becoming an allocated item like so many other brands which lose out because they can't deliver enough product to meet market demand.  You gotta hand it to Heaven Hill, they have managed to keep the product on the shelves even while the boom has boomed.  But the Bourbon-Skeptical people notice a different facet of the decision first: it's higher profit margin to sell younger whiskey so dropping the age statement is just "straight up corporate greed".  What's the real story?

And, who cares?  Is younger whiskey necessarily worse?   It's one of those "truisms" of whiskey which need to be punctured and deflated: that older whiskey is necessarily better.  Experienced whiskey-lovers all have tales of old whiskeys which were over-oaked and flabbier than powerful, vibrant younger whiskeys can be.  I've had my mind blown by young whiskey that, tasted blind, had the complexity and deliciousness of much more mature stuff.  Prominent examples include Balcones, Amrut, Westland, Kavalan, and Koval.  I remember one night when Josh Hatton poured a Single Cask Nation 7 year old Glen Moray which drank like a 20 year old BenRiach with phenols and everything.  So you can't simply be dogmatic about "older whiskey is better".  But like many stereotypes, there is a core of truth.  A given whiskey, all else being equal, gains in complexity and richness as it matures in wood up to a certain point, and then it declines.  There's still not any way around that.  Cherry picking active-cask outliers scores rhetorical points, but doesn't alter the basic physics of the equation.  (Although the physics is definitely altered in tropical climates like India, Taiwan, and Texas).  It seems almost not worth calling out or testing, on its face.  Yet, Diving for Pearl's rigorous blind tasting really puts this question to an empirical test.

Michael Kravitz is a thoughtful drinker, a whisky blogger of wide experience, and an articulate and intelligent drinking companion.  When he asked if I wanted to participate in a blind tasting he was organizing for Diving For Pearls blog where we would taste a ladder of Elijah Craig expressions ranging from a pre-fire Heaven Hill (DSP-KY-31) EC12 from around 2001, to the current NAS in the new taller slender bottle, I jumped.  The flight took us through the evolution from a new Bernheim DSP-KY-1 EC12 age stated on the front from around 2015, to the transitional EC12 with the age statement tucked away in the block of text on the back circa 2016, to the old style bottle NAS EC circa 2017, to the new bottle design NAS of today.  This would cut across the transition period of NAS implementation and then a few years in, so we can see, empirically, whether a shift to NAS actually matters to the quality of the whiskey.  Or, as the distillery's argument goes, "by having the freedom to choose the best barrels regardless of age, we can get as close as we can to the flavor profile, so the NAS version should get even better - not worse.".  I know everyone "knows" the answer going in.  But, by doing the tasting blind, and in a group of 20 people, we'd get to see whether i) people can taste the difference when the age statement is dropped, and, more importantly, ii) I could find out whether I, personally, could tell the difference.

Read Michael Kravitz's blog post about his blind tasting.  It is chock full of convincing statistics that show a plurality of people found more or less as I did in the notes that follow... or did they?
Then, bless his heart, Krav gives us a separate post with full tasting notes for each expression (links are at the bottom of this post).  He's good.  What follows isn't that - but it's my personal experience of that shift to NAS evolution..

When I sat down to the blind tasting, the first sample was clearly the odd man out.  It had a darker color and much clearer, stronger, flavor than any of the others.  Because I knew in advance that we'd have a single sample from pre-fire Heaven Hill dsp-ky-31 (thanks for the correction, Steve Urey.  I had previously erroneously called it "Old Bernheim" which was the previous generation of the distillery Heaven Hill moved to after the fire, eventually), and four samples from new Bernheim dsp-ky-1, I had a pretty good idea what the odd man out was.  I had never tasted EC12 from the old Heaven Hill distillery before, so the flavor signature was somewhat new to me, but it had a constellation of the features I associate with old Bourbon: dank sweetness, richness, darkness, and a funky untidy quality.  I have come to prize those features highly.  But what of the other four?  While they all shared a bunch of flavor signature aspects: peanuts and corn oil and a grassy sweetness; there was one of the four which was head and shoulders above the rest.  And those other three were mediocre and pretty similar to each other.  How to proceed?

I made a snap decision: I would forget about all of the iconoclastic honey-barrel cherry-picked challenges to conventional wisdom and I would just go with the stereotype: richer flavor means older whiskey and thinner hotter flavor means younger whiskey.  Then I added the assumption that Heaven Hill's evolution of Elijah Craig was a straight-up linear growth in demand with a somewhat fixed supply of aging stocks and a growing premium market, so there would be a linear decline in quality as the expressions moved through time.  In the 2001 bottling, some (most) of the whiskey was probably much older than 12.  By the time Heaven Hill was planning to ditch the age statement, by hiding it on the back, they were probably already pulling out the honey barrels for higher-priced premium bottlings, and then in the NAS era, they were free (or forced) to use younger and younger whiskey so that the flavor slope should be a one way decline.

So I ranked my tastings by score and preference and assigned identifications in a straight linear by date arrangement.  This approach turned out to be correct and I nailed all of the identifications.  Furthermore, I wasn't the only one.  Florin (@whiskystat on Twitter) also nailed all the identifications (and he's a man who seems to know Bourbon quite well).  He said in the comments below The Krav's first post on the tasting that he was guided by the same simplistic assumption that I was: that Elijah Craig was just going to simply decline in quality over time.  To his great credit, Michael Kravitz stuck with what he knew and didn't quite say so on any of his blog posts on the topic (even while holding Heaven Hill's feet to the fire regularly in his review of their contemporary whiskey products).

I'm a huge fan of Heaven Hill, but there's no denying the evidence I was experiencing first hand here.  I found that the quality of Elijah Craig declined dramatically when the age statement was dropped.  Furthermore, I found that the current version of the product scores about the same as the next brand down in their line up - Evan Williams.  My tasting notes are as follows, as submitted as guesses to the Krav for his blind tasting.  All my identifications are guesses - and you can see, I'm pretty cocky in my confidence:

Sample A - Ranked #1. 12 year old, bottled ca. 2001, distilled at the old distillery, before the fire.
N- Pecans, hops, iron (ketchup), marigolds, brown sugar buttercream and a hint of Kentucky tobacco That nameless smell of old mature Bourbon
P- Honeyed, nutty, notes of brown sugar, leather, mint and beery hops. Richer mouth-feel and clearly more mature. Herbal and mossy with some dank well notes on the turn and in the long finish. Nice rich bourbon with the old-school brown sugar and vegetal mossy and hoppy notes,.

Score: 87

This one stands head and shoulders above the rest in quality, and clearly has a different flavor profile, which is consistent with it being the only one of these made at a different distillery than the others.  Different water, different washbacks, different stills.  It's also the end of the glut so this batch would probably have included barrels far older than the stated age.  Also, fewer special editions had drained out the honey barrels.  Not to mention a couple of decades of bottle maturation.

Sample B - Ranked #5. Small Batch, no age statement, current bottle/label style
N- linseed oil - solventy, sunflower seeds, daisies and clover, earthy loam
P- Thin, hot, lightly floral, spicy

Corn oil note. A little bitter on the finish. Not unpleasant but clearly thinner than the rest.

Score: 76

The weakest of the bunch and I’m assuming it’s the most recent of the bottlings and that there is a linear progression of decline in the richness of Elijah Craig as it gets sold younger as a consequence of its popularity. I also wonder if more selectivity in the barrel management is routing more honey barrels elsewhere

Sample C - Ranked #4 Small Batch, no age statement, previous bottle/label style
N- very shy on the nose. But what there is: Corn oil, Unroasted peanuts and pecan. Nut brittle (candied). With air some coconut and peach notes emerge.
P- Thin again. Nutty grassy and young. A bit of bitterness. Some bitter orange. A bit of solvent.

Score: 79

Not great, perhaps just a hair better than Evan Williams - and also noticeably a hair better than sample B. Why would a label change correlate with a flavor change? Maybe it’s just a bit of random variation. Or maybe Elijah Craig continues to get younger as time progresses as a result of rising sales?

Sample D - Ranked #2. 12 year old Small Batch with the red 12 on the front label.
N- Honeyed Pecans, barn dirt, glove leather, hints of tobacco and a bit of distant lavender and mint
P- Big, sweet, grassy, notes of honey, cooked , stonefruit, juicyfruit gum, and oak and char on the finish.


The real stuff, from the New Bernheim distillery. It’s good. But I can’t help but notice that tasted blind it is smoked by the stuff from the Old Heaven Hill distillery. (If my guesses are correct). I wonder if the old stuff had older barrels because they were still working through glut stocks in that era? In any case, this is good, but it’s not in the same league. Still, it’s better than any subsequent expression.

Sample E- Ranked #3.  12 year old Small Batch with the age statement moved to the back label.
N- Corn oil leading, linseed oil (solvent), corn husks, cream, daisies, and sun-dried oak
P- Nutty, grassy. Hot at mid-palate with more grassy sweetness, some marigold florals, but a tad bitter on the finish. Things open up slowly and it gets a tad richer and sweeter with more time.


This is the mysterious one. Still age-stated 12 years old, why is it noticeably less tasty than the stuff with the age statement on the front? I don’t think it’s just the location of the age statement ink. I suspect that barrel management “improved” and that more honey barrels were removed for use in single barrel private, or premium distillery-only “Select” releases.

Control: Evan Williams BiB WOL Cut glass
N- Corn oil, earth oak
P- Grassy sweet and thin, hints of honey but also a solvent note. Opens into grassy sweetness


Evan Williams is the less expensive expression from Heaven Hill, and it’s clearly an expression of the same distillery. It’s amazingly good for such a bargain basement price (the 86 proof Black goes for around $14-18, and the BiB, although rarer, is only a few dollars more) and, amidst the blind, is clearly as good as at least two of the Elijah Craig bottlings. Eye opening.

Bottom line, it's yet another sad tale of dropped age statements leading to younger whiskey which, I'm so sorry to say, just doesn't taste as good. Period. I mourn Elijah Craig's long slow decline. We all know Heaven Hill makes good whiskey. If they can mature this stuff a bit more, Elijah Craig can return to tasting less like Evan Williams and more like Elijah Craig once again.  It's almost enough to make one wish for the end of the Bourbon Boom.  I know... bite your tongue.

Again: read Michael Kravitz's blog post about his blind tasting.  Great stuff.

Then read his subsequent posts with tasting notes for each of the expressions:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Chuck Schumer's Gaffe and Why It Matters To New York Whiskey

On video it doesn't look like much of anything.  Chuck Schumer, Senator from New York, in a suit, at a conference in Kentucky addresses Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell:

"Brooklyn, where I was born, raised and proudly live, produces some of the best bourbon in the world."

Then he hands him a bottle of Widow Jane Bourbon. McConnell replies

"There's no such thing as Brooklyn bourbon," 

which gets a laugh.  But Chuck Schumer committed a gaffe today that has the whiskey world slapping its head in frustration and hilarity.  Widow Jane is one of those famous examples of a distillery that sources whiskey from a distillery somewhere else (in this case, supremely ironically, Kentucky of all places) and then lied (I'm using the past tense here) about being made locally in Brooklyn.  When people talk about "Potemkin Distilleries" (Chuck Cowdery's coinage), Widow Jane in Redhook is one of the famous, classic examples.  Chuck Schumer actually gave Mitch McConnell Kentucky Bourbon in a New York bottle and erroneously crowed about it being Brooklyn whiskey.  It's just awful, or hilarious, or pathetic, depending on how you look on it.

Newsweek got the angle first at 11am - well ahead of most of the press, in a piece by Gersh Kuntzman which gleefully points out that Widow Jane is Bourbon sourced from Kentucky.  The story spread from here.  Amusingly, Mr. Kuntzman makes sure to tell us in 3 separate parenthetical asides that he has been drinking the whiskey actively while writing up the story, and he really likes it.  He likes it a lot.  e.g.:

<<...Widow Jane is (full disclosure) exemplary whiskey...>> and <<...a taste of honey and cherrywood and a finish of charred oak and orange peel" (fuller disclosure: That is deliciously accurate).>>

By now, it's a talking point about what an idiot Chuck Schumer is.  But here is a moment when much of America is actually talking about and thinking about whiskey and they are getting exactly the wrong lessons about whiskey.  First of all, Mitch  McConnell's retort "There's no such thing as Brooklyn bourbon," is simply factually wrong.  That "Bourbon must be made in Kentucky" is one of the most common fallacies.  The legal restrictions governing the production of Bourbon only specify the mash bill, strength, and wood of maturation and the United States as the nation of origin:

27 CFR 5.22 - The standards of identity....
l, class 12, section 1: "...That the word “bourbon” shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States."

There is Bourbon made in every State in the Union (except Hawaii and Nebraska - thanks Susannah Skiver Barton!)   And there are plenty of Brooklyn Bourbons.  King's County Distillery was the first legal distillery in New York since Prohibition and has been making some really good Bourbon in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for years.  Other Brooklyn distilleries making true Bourbon include Van Brundt Stillhouse, and even Widow Jane itself (with their Wapsie Valley, Bloody Butcher and other boutique corn variety bottlings - which I don't recommend btw).  And there are plenty of other Bourbons in New York State, including some really good ones made at Finger Lakes Distilling by Tom McKenzie (who left the distillery last year).  There was zero reason for Schumer to make this error.  Anyone could have spent literally five minutes on the Internet and figured this out.

Chuck's gaffe makes Brooklyn looks bad to people who don't know whiskey because it seems apparent that if the Senator from New York can't even grab a bottle of New York Bourbon when he has set out to rib Kentucky about Bourbon then clearly there isn't one. They will all say "everyone knows Bourbon comes from Kentucky".  Mitch McConnell's error that "Bourbon only comes from Kentucky" will be reified.  

Coppersea Straight Malted Empire Rye
But there's a deeper irony here; and it's the big story in New York craft distilling this year: the creation of the Empire Rye designation.  New York just laid down the gauntlet, claiming a long tradition of rye whiskey production and leveraging that into a new era with some serious efforts by seven (and counting) craft distillers.  I recently sipped through seven of the new Empire Ryes (or their immediate predecessors)  and was extremely impressed.  These don't drink like the flawed raw Craft Whiskeys you'd expect from a new standard.  A big reason for that is because New York's craft distillers aren't new.  They have climbed the learning curve and are making some really good whiskeys - and in particular - rye whiskeys.  Coppersea's malted rye was dusky and complex with rich mouth feel and rich flavors imparted by malting the rye.  King's County rye was a powerhouse, with a rich clean rye flavor and a lingering bracingly herbal finish.   New York Distilling Company's Ragtime Rye was softer, but with really pleasing flavors and good balance.  Hillrock's Double Cask Rye was more austere - but still elegant and tasty.  The Empire Rye designation stands for something real:  At least 75 percent of its grain must be New York-grown rye. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof; put into a barrel at no more than 115 proof (which is below the industry standard of 125 proof); and aged at least two years in charred, new oak barrels.  The original six members of the Empire Rye consortium — Coppersea, Tuthilltown, Black Button Distilling, New York Distilling, Kings County Distillery and Finger Lakes Distilling have been joined by three more distilleries since.  This is a real story for New York whiskey and it hasn't gotten enough press.

King's County Rye 51% ab
New York Distilling Ragtime Rye
Hillrock Double Cask Rye.

Last October I got to geek out about the history of rye whiskey in New York at an event called "New York Whiskey - Past, Present, Future" - part of the Empire Rye appellation celebration and New York State Craft Beverage Week, held by Josh Richholt at his cavernous super-bar "The Well" in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  Dave Pickerell (master distiller formerly of Maker's Mark but who now works on many distilleries including the Hillrock Rye project and, formerly Widow Jane), Christopher Briar Williams, master distiller (and I don't use the term lightly here) of Coppersea Distillery - one of the founders of the Empire Rye idea, Reid Mitenbuler (author of Bourbon Empire, and a serious whiskey geek), myself, and Josh Richholt (dusty enthusiast, owner of The Well, and another serious whiskey geek) - right to left in the photo below - discussed the long and fascinating history of rye whiskey in New York State.


It begins with farm distillery production of rye.  In the pre-industrial era there were literally hundreds of small distilleries in the original 13 colonies of the US - with strong concentrations in the heavily populated areas like New York.  Rye whiskey was the traditional form for people coming from central Europe and rye grew well in the colder environment of the NorthEast.  Josh Richholt brought a fascinating example from the end of that period - an 1892 vintage dated bottle of Emerson's Old "5x" Pure Rye Whiskey.  It was produced at Brotherhood Wine (which still exists, operating a vineyard out of Washingtonville, NY (Orange County) founded 1839.  The Emerson family purchased the wine made by the Jaques family according to the Brotherhood wine history for 60 years (until apparently 1899 or 1900) when the Emerson family purchased the winery. They named it after the Brotherhood of New Life Utopian community in the Hudson Valley.  They apparently operated a wine and liquor shop out of Soho because this bottle of 5x whiskey says so.  Was this whiskey made in New York or sourced from somewhere else?  Who can say?  This might be local New York farm distilled whiskey, part of that long tradition, or it might be sourced whiskey from somewhere else and bottled in New York by New York City merchants - also a long tradition associated with some of the greatest names in whiskey.

For example, H.B. Kirk & Co. of 69 Fulton St. New York City extensively advertised Old Crow and Old Hermitage rye from the Old Hermitage distillery Frankfort exclusive distributor.  This  1884 ad (right) states: "We have taken every barrel made since January 1872".  Josh Richholt brought (and cracked) a bottle of Old Crow Rye from the 1940s that was still bottled in New York even then.  (It was pretty damned good and deserves its own post).

Another example you might have heard of is a New York merchant named Austin Nichols who operated a famous (and vast) warehouse in 184 Kent St. Williamsburgh Brooklyn that was built in 1915. The famous Turkey shoot story that Jimmy Russel always tells everyone dates from 1940s. Austin Nichols First bottled Wild Turkey in 1954 (the year that Jimmy Rusell began working there.)  They used sourced bourbon from many distilleries at that time, and throughout the 50s-60s. Later on, in 1971, they bought the Boulevard Distillery (previously JTS Brown, originally Old Moore, & Ripy Bros) to make Wild Turkey.  So Wild Turkey, even though it's a Kentucky whiskey brand, is a New York company with a New York story.

Dusty bottles of New York rye - and other whiskeys just bottled in New York - courtesy of Josh Richholt.

There is a lot more to this history story.  Park & Tilford appears in Richholt's lineup.  Schenley too.  Both were New York companies.  (Tasting notes will follow in another post).  Wine & Spirits Bulletin in the pre-pro era shows dozens of distributors on the Manhattan & Brooklyn waterfronts.  The famous "Kevin Bacon" of the 20th century whiskey world, Sam Bronfman, who is in just about every American whiskey history story somewhere, built the Seagram's Building in Manhattan.  JP Morgan's cellar books in 1884 show New York State rye and winter wheat whiskey in wicker demijohns.  The more you look, the deeper the story goes.  New York State is making seriously good whiskey, it has a serious whiskey history.  If Chuck Schumer had just researched a little bit - or had talked to any of us who know and love the ongoing story - he could have delivered a real whiskey gauntlet to Mitch McConnell, and everyone in America might be talking about whether New York just might actually be a whiskey power, instead of laughing at Schumer and at the idea of New York whiskey.  This was a lost opportunity for New York and for Chuck Schumer - and for America.

On a panel with awesome whiskey people talking about
New York whiskey history... Yeah - I took a selfie.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Updated: actual selections for the BeastMaster Dusty Battle: CooperedTot Vs The Well.

Branded as Gibson's Distilling Co. - this bottle actually
contains whiskey from Stewart Distillery, Baltimore.
Made prior to September, 1917.
Update:  My previous post announcing the upcoming BeastMaster Dusty Battle event between myself and and Josh Richholt showed a lot of pretty dusty bottle pics.  But I didn't specify which bottles we would actually be pouring - so it's just hype.  Except... it wasn't.  We are really going to be pouring some amazing bottles.   In brief, a Prohibition bottling of a Maryland rye, a 1950s bonded Beam, and a pair of glut era 1970s Bourbons: a Wild Turkey 101 8 year old, and National Distillers Bourbon DeLuxe.  There will be contemporary Beam and Wild Turkey so you can taste vanished expressions against today's head to head.  The ways that these flavor signatures have changed will be one of my topics.  But first, let me get specific with the two bottles I'll be pouring:
Stewart Distillery, RD No.12, Baltimore, MD around 1909

I Prohibition era bottling of Maryland Rye - labeled "Gibson" but actually "Stewart"

Distilled prior to September 8th, 1917 at The Stewart Distillery. Two stories in one because the bottle is labeled one way, but contains a different whiskey.  This kind of thing was common in Prohibition when brands were consolidated into a few companies who had medicinal whiskey licenses to sell to pharmacies.  Actual whiskey was taken from closed distilleries and stored together in a smaller number of more defensible concentration warehouses and brands and spirits were often conflated as expediency demanded.  In this case we have Lewis Rosensteil's Schenley operation - which would become the second largest liquor company in the United States (second only to American Medicinal Sprits, which became National Distillers after Repeal).  Rosensteil's concentration warehouse was at Schenley PA, RD No. 2 - and sure enough - the back label on this bottle says that whiskey from Stewart Distillery, Baltimore was "bottled for" Gibson Distilling Co. of Brownsville, PA (the heart of the Monongahela region), at Schenley's concentration warehouse.

These are interesting brands.  Gibson's was a classic pre-Prohibition high-rye mash bill "red" Mongahela valley rye.  Rosensteil purchased the brand and had obviously run out of the juice by the time this bottle was filled.  Schenley shifted production of Gibson's up to Canada after Repeal, and Gibson's remains one of the major brands of Canadian whisky to this day.  It's fascinating to see that its roots are in PA rye.

Stewart's is one of the brands of Maryland rye that disappeared with Prohibition.  In a 1920s lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the Stewart's Rye Whiskey brand dates back to 1788 (it also appears as Robert Stewart Distillery in the late 19th century).  According to tax records it was self-owned until 1901 when it was sold to the Carstair's Brothers - best known for Carstair's White Seal (another venerable Baltimore rye brand with 18th century roots.  Carstair's White Seal became a blended American whiskey after WWII).

This particular bottle has a front label that is age stated as 11 years old.  On the back is that odd statement "Made prior to September 8th, 1917".  The bottled in bond tax strip is missing so we can infer that this is probably a 1917-1928, or possible a 1916-1927 (or a 1915-1926). 

So this medicinal pint represents a rare opportunity to taste the whiskey from a vanished and historic Baltimore MD distillery which was part of the formation of Lewis Rosensteil's Schenley Industries in its heady formative days.

II 1955-1961 Jim Beam Bonded In Bond blue glass "Grecian" decanter.  100 proof.

How did mid-century Jim Beam differ from today's expressions?  Find out.  This lovely piece of mid-century kitch is a Mad Men era classic.  The decanter is blue glass - so there's no lead risk.  It feels and sounds full.  This bourbon is should be a rich with that mid-century heavy vanilla and brown-sugar loaded sweetness and that characteristic Jim Beam "funk" (which some people tastes like a barn smells - and other people say is "earthy").

This is a classic case of a historic American distillery which is still in major production.  Continuity and tradition will stand against industry changes in types of corn, length of mashing period, rising barreling proofs, shorter maturation periods, and other "enhancements to production".  Bottle maturation might also be a factor.  It's a half-century plus old decanter - who knows?  That's part of the fun of cracking a dusty.

And that's not all!  Josh Richholt is bringing some classic dusty Bourbons for our enjoyment as well:

a 1978 Wild Turkey 8/101 and a 1976 Bourbon deLuxe from National Distillers.  These are legendary delicious classics.

Want to attend.  Get your tickets here:
The green bottled in bond tax strip on the Beam Grecian Decanter showing
the year and season of distillation - and of bottling as a 6 year old.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Dusty Battle: Coopered Tot v.s. The Well at BeastMaster

FYI - this post was updated with the actual selections that will be poured:

Why drink old found bottles?  (The term "dusties" refers to whiskies which are no longer available, but which can be found in old liquor stores, orphaned on shelves). My friend Steve Zeller - the blogger of The Smoky Beast blog - sometimes tells a joke.

"How many whiskey bloggers does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
"A hundred.  One to screw in the light bulb and 99 to write about how the old bulb was better!"  

Old bottles, "dusties, with old styles,
obsolete age statements,
or produced at vanished distilleries.
But all joking aside, a lot of old bottles are really interesting, and many are better than the current versions and there are sound reasons why.  Over the last couple of decades, whiskey has become a victim of its own popularity - with age statements disappearing and younger whiskey now standing in.  Less flavorful faster-growing grains are used.  Higher-yielding faster-acting yeasts make more alcohol out of units of grain, at the expense of complex flavors.  Mashing periods have declined.  Barreling proofs have increased. And maturation times have decreased.  Each change has reduced costs and increased profits for distilleries - at the expense of complexity and flavor.  You can tell the difference by drinking old whiskeys.  It's fascinating and often delicious.  Dusties can be hard to find.  If you want a guided introduction, join me in attending a unique event where dusty hunters score and pour.

The 1973 Old Forester BiB I sourced
for the first BeastMaster event.
The last time I presented whiskey at a Smoky Beast BeastMaster event it was their very first public event and Steve Zeller and I were presenting a tasting that involved two dusty whiskeys: a National Distiller's Old Taylor and a 1973 Old Forester Bottled in Bond from 1973.   We were comparing them against current expressions of the same brands.

Now, I'm coming back to BeastMasters Club, in the new head 2 head contest format against my friend Joshua Richholt in a Dusty battle where we dusty hunt and bring our best finds to a public tasting.  If you've ever wanted to taste dusties with me here's a chance.

The format is simple  Josh and I will be given $300 and we will find the best dusties we can.  (If we strike out we can provide bottles from our own private collections).  I've known Josh Richholt for a while and I've drunk whisky with him a number of times and I can attest that he is a talented dusty hunter with amazing taste.  He founded an amazing bar on the border of Brooklyn and Queens called The Well.  It has an amazing line up of bottles and beers on tap.  It's built inside a 19th-century brewery.  Richholt knows the history and is well connected with the history of alcohol.  He will be formidable opposition.  We source the dusties and pour them for everyone in attendance.  Knowing me, I'll probably tell some stories about them.  I don't know what bottles will show up.  I'm going to be hunting hard because I want to impress.  It sounds like a whole lot of fun.  

Fri, October 27, 2017
6:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Where?  At the BeastMaster's Popup Lair on Canal St. in Manhattan.  Tickets are cheap at $50 and available here.

FYI - this post was updated with the actual selections that will be poured:

Don't look at it!  Dusties cover my kitchen table..
I didn't do nearly as good a job of romanticizing the story as Steve Zeller did.  Check it out his description from the eventbrite site:

Dusties are the true sport of bourbon hunting, setting apart the rookies from the veteran die-hard whiskey aficionados. We’ve been wanting to do a Dusty Battle for some time, but we needed to find the perfect two warriors who would be up to the task. Meet Josh & Josh…

Josh Feldman, whiskey historian and author of has been collecting, writing, and all-around obsessing about whiskey for over a decade. He was an early mentor to Steve and Dana as they began the SmokyBeast blog, generously guiding them into the unknown territory of shuttered distilleries, dusty gems, and the decades of history that surround these special whiskies.

Josh Richholt is the co-founder of The Well. Dubbed the “biggest local bar you’ve ever seen”, The Well boasts 200 beers on tap, a tasty whiskey selection. and a mammoth outdoor music venue. We caught Josh sneaking a bottle Jack Daniels into our “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” event. Little did we know it was a 1960’s Jack Daniels (which changed the move from sacrilege to bona fide). It turned out that Josh had come directly to our event from a successful dusty hunt of epic proportions.

Each contender will bring two dusties from his private collection for your consideration. You will vote to decide who shall hold the belt as BMC Dusty Champion.

We’re very excited to be able to share this special event with you. Don’t miss out!

Join us!

Dusty Old Overholt Rye