Tag Archives: whiskey

Money, religion, war, politics, and booze – Whiskey edition

In the mid-late 1800s, a decent dram of whiskey cost $0.50, same as a box of pistol cartridges – wonder if the same correlation exist today…

Always Money and Politics …  

The historical influence of money and politics on our favorite spirits … Whiskey edition

Good day, my drinking buddies…

Today I offer some interesting examples of how the powerful combo of Money and Politics have shaped and influenced our current drinking culture.   Let’s start with my favorite spirit!  Whiskey! 

Religious Freedom and the birth of American Whiskey Production

In the late Eighteenth Century, the search for religious freedom led Scottish, Irish, and German immigrants to America.  With them, they brought invaluable whisk(e)y making knowledge and skill. We have them to thank for popular American expressions such as Rye whiskey (especially in PN, MD, and VA), Bourbon, and Tennessee Whiskey (which is technically Bourbon).  Without their technique and methodology, whiskey production in the U.S. could have been set back for quite some time.  

Bourbon

Did you know that *Bourbon was essentially born out rebellion to the Whiskey Excise Tax of 1791?  The tax was imposed by the Feds in an attempt to pay debt from the Revolutionary War (1775-83).  Farmers who produced whiskey (which most did, back then) were often Revolutionary War vets, and were incensed with the tax (which led to the short lived and unsuccessful Whiskey Rebellion – GW and the militia shut that down, quick!).  

Regarding taxing war veterans to pay for the war they just fought in — dang, that’s some serious double dipping, Feds!

However, without the excise tax, whiskey distillers might not have gone deep into the wilderness of what is now KY, IN, and TN (as they were forced to do, making whiskey on this land, which was outside of Federal jurisdiction, to avoid paying the tax). Fortunately, this land was rich in maize.  Sure, no doubt this land would have eventually been harvested for liquid sunshine – but the impetus was certainly freedom from the excise tax! (Which was repealed during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he loved whiskey, too, right?)

*Bourbon, by law, must be at least 51% corn mash bill and must be made in the U.S. of A.  

The Civil War 

Did you know that alcohol taxes paid for a decent percentage of the Civil War (1861-1865)?  In a nutshell, the Union’s revenue and tariff system was much more secure than that of the Confederacy (due in part to the Confederacy’s assets being human capital – you know, like, me!).  

The Union had a successful treasury system in place, and the implementation of The Legal Tender Act solidified it further:

“Passed in February 1862, the act authorized the issue of $150 million in Treasury notes, known as Greenbacks.” 

Eventually, The Bureau of Internal Revenue was created, and they, of course – put their large spoon into all of the pies…

“The Internal Revenue Act of 1862, enacted by Congress in July, 1862, soaked up much of the inflationary pressure produced by Greenbacks. It did so because the Act placed excise taxes on just about everything, including sin and luxury items like liquor, tobacco, playing cards, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, and jewelry.”

I love that “sin and luxury” part… sounds like a winner, to me! Hell, I’ll pay for that.

Ultimately, by the early 20th Century, alcohol tax accounted for 30-40% of the Federal Government’s revenue!  Income tax, much to my chagrin (and yours, too, I’m sure) soon cometh, as well…  And – one of the most fascinating eras in U.S. History was impending – gasp – Temperance and The Prohibition Era.  

“I had no idea how important liquor was to the federal government,” says Novick. “It started in the Civil War with the levy on beer and whiskey to help fund the war, and it never really went away. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of the government’s income came from the tax on alcohol. So Prohibitionists realized that the only way they’re going to have a ban was through income tax, which was a progressive cause and was really supposed to distribute wealth and to make things equitable during the robber baron era, where the wealth was being accumulated in a very small segment of the population.”

Lynn Novick, co-documentarian of Ken Burns’s three-part series on Prohibition on PBS

Phew!  These are just a few examples of the politics of drinking.  And, well, shit – now we have high liquor taxes AND income taxes… tf?!

This is enough thinkin’ and writin’ for now.  Both me brain and me wallet hurts.  Have a jolly day. SPR

___________.  Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide, 2015. Washington, D.C.: The Society of Wine Educators, 2015.

Oak Aging of Spirits

_DSC0298

 

Barrel-aged Boulevardier

I truly enjoyed my barrel-aging experience with the American White Oak Barrel I purchased on Amazon from Brew Naturally. *There are many other barrels out there that I’m sure are quite as good. I’m just sharing the specific one that I purchased…

Oak Aging is a process that I am fascinated with and passionate about. Once I learned the complicated – yet magical – chemical processes involved in aging spirits in wood, my respect for aged spirits deepened.

Let’s talk a little bit about wood. Wood is the PERFECT vessel to age spirits in. It has various natural sugars; chemical compounds called “lactones” that impart flavor and aroma; and tannins – which add color, aroma, and flavor. It is also porous – which allows evaporation to occur, and a small amount oxygen in (necessary for oxidation of the spirit, which also imparts color – browning apples, anyone?!) – whilst allowing spirit to stay in, as well. 

Perfect, right? 

American White Oak (Quercus Alba)  is often used to mature spirits.  There are several reasons for this 1) It is abundant in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the Ozarks; 2) porosity allows for a) evaporation of spirit, b) oxidation (small amount of oxygen enters), c) pliability for barrel making; 3) high tannin content, w/potential for imparting over 400 different flavor/aromatic combinations to aging spirit

There are 3 components to Oak  (Quercus genus) heartwood:

  1. Cellulose –  40% mass of the wood, this organic compound has strength and chemical resistance.  It helps the wood maintain structure and remain durable.  
  2. Hemicellulose – 25% mass of the wood, also an organic compound, and is present in most plant cell walls, as is cellulose.  It has various sugars with lower molecular weights than cellulose- assisting in solubility of alcohol.  We have hemicellulose to thank for the “red layer” in charred oak barrels. 
  3. Lignin – 5-10% mass of wood – tannins!  As mentioned above, these polyphenolic compounds contain the potential for imparting 400 flavor/aromatic combinations to aging spirit!   

The constant interaction between the spirit and the (charred) wood barrel allows the 6 major processes of wood aging to occur:

  1. Extraction – Water and alcohol soak into the oak, extracting flavor and sweetness from the charred inside of the wood
  2. Evaporation – Depending on climate –  evaporation (“angel’s share” ) can account for 3-10% loss annually
  3. Oxidation – Evaporated spirit creates space in barrel, allowing air to enter into the barrel. O2 in the air forms aromatic compounds by dissolving into spirit — this is where “terroir” enters – which gives various spirits their unique “taste of place” (I’m thinking briny, seaweed infused Islay Scotch)
  4. Concentration – Depending on climate – water evaporates faster than alcohol, or conversely, alcohol evaporates faster. Either way, the volume of spirit is reduced, concentrating the aromas and flavors the magical (ok, so – yes – science – but it seems magical!) extraction/oxidation aging processes have imparted
  5. Filtration – Charred inner layer (red layer) allows filtration to occur, smoothing the spirit by absorbing sulfur and aldehyde compounds
  6. Coloration – Red layer, now caramelized by charring the inside of the barrel, adds reddish color to spirit, and oxidation colors further, adding brownish shade 

Phew!  Amazing stuff!  Now that we’ve distilled the oak aging process – don’t you just want some tawny, liquid sunshine?! Thank you oak, thank you chemistry, thank you terroir –  thank you, thank you!!!!! 

In closing, I am stoked and humbled knowing that so much dynamic chemistry is occurring during oak aging.  The ability to age cocktails at home is no gimmicky, dismissive project.  There is science/magic going on in there – and that is not to be taken for granted.

SPR

___________.  Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide, 2015. Washington, D.C.: The Society of Wine Educators, 2015.

_DSC0301

Fat-Washing Spirits

Whoa. What an appetizing name!  Yes, I get it – our sometimes health obsessed society shudders at the word fat. But hell, fat has flavor. And you know what else has flavor – damn straight – it’s whiskey!

Alcohol’s ability to extract both fat-soluble and water-soluble flavor compounds makes fat-washing a concept made in heaven – no matter how unappealing it may sound.

 

IMG_0446

 

Pig in a Pear Tree (name courtesy of @fikafiend on IG)

4oz Fat washed 1729 Bourbon – washed with Sausage grease

2oz fresh Apricot/Cilantro/Lime juice (2 Apricots, 1 Lime, half handful Cilantro

Teaspoon of homemade Pear Preserves (I purchased from yard sale!) 1/4 tsp additional Pear Preserve syrup

1oz Lime Oleo Saccharum

4 dashes Angostura bitters

Dry shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker for 20-30 sec.  Add ice and shake for additional 15 sec. Strain into chilled glass. Separation is normal with fresh fruit juice. 

Fat-washed Bourbon:  

Mix 3 pts. Bourbon with 1pt. sausage grease until mixture becomes opaque, and place in sealed freezable container.  The process of freezing the mixture is perfect, as it allows the fat to freeze on top of the liquid alcohol, which has a freezing point much lower than commercial freezer temps (high proof alcohol, that is). This makes extraction of the fat a breeze.

Freeze overnight, or at least 6-8 hours. Once frozen to the point where fat has solidified on surface, take a butter knife and wedge between inside of container and fat – essentially “ejecting” the hockey puck-like disc of fat and revealing the still liquid bourbon beneath.  Or skim the fat, if you prefer.  Discard the fat and strain the Bourbon through a cheesecloth lined sieve, or coffee filter.   Done, and done. 

_DSC0846

Kinda looks like a hockey puck, right?!

Below: same principle – similar recipe – different pork fat – BACON!

IMG_0384