Friday, June 30, 2023

Innovative Finishing and Best Small Batch Bourbon at Filibuster Distillery

I've planned to visit more distilleries in 2023 and Filibuster Distillery has been on my list for quite some time - ever since a tasting with Mr. Dilawri several years ago.  And with the distillery located in the Shenandoah Valley between Strasburg and Woodstock, there are several other craft beverage establishments and small towns to explore before or after the visit.  Filibuster leverages the limestone-filtered water that is prevalent in the valley and this water has a higher ratio of beneficial minerals than Kentucky limestone-filtered water. They also use a combination of native and cultured yeast as well as a pot and column still, all depending on the targeted spirit.

It was a quiet day on my visit and I had the full attention of the tasting room staff to learn about their innovative approach to using various used casks and the 2023 World Whisky Awards “Best Small Batch” Bourbon from outside of Kentucky: Bottled in Bond. This is a long way from the MGPI Rye that I first tasted long ago.   In fact, the distillery sources all of its corn, rye, and barley from neighboring Shenandoah Valley farms.  I chose the Premium Flight so that I could sample the Bottled in Bond and also two out of the limited-release Triple Cask series. 

Bottled In Bond is a Federal designation encapsulated in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 -- introduced to ensure that whiskey producers were making their whiskey at a certain quality level and standard suitable for the public. Before the regulation, distillers would add additives and even spit chewing tobacco to color the spirit and add oak aging characteristics. In order to be labeled as bottled-in-bond or bonded, the product must be (1) made at a single distillery, (2) produced within a single distilling season, (3) aged for a minimum of four years at a federally bonded warehouse, and (4) bottled at 50% ABV. The Filibuster Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey ($79.99) was created following these rules and shows a little heat at that proof, but a couple drops of water dampen the alcohol and lift the honeyed orange aromas. The palate and finish carry smoked caramel and little candied nuts. 

I also chose the Triple Cask Finished In Madeira Barrels ($79.99) and Triple Cask Finished In Sherry Barrels ($79.99) which both utilize a 6- year-old high Rye bourbon from MGPI and a 5-year-old Sweet Mash Filibuster Straight Bourbon as a base before finishing in the respective cask for 11 months.   Both also weigh in between 114 to 117 proof but show less heat than the 100 proof Bottled in Bond. That being said, a couple drops of water still tames any lingering alcohol and elevates the nose with what one would expect from a Madeira or Sherry. Lots of dried fruit, nuts, figs, and some caramel and honey. Both are very savory.

I was also invited to sample the Filibuster Dual Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($48.99), which was the inspiration for the Triple Cask, but made at a slightly more approachable proof and a more approachable price point. The mash bill consists of 70% sweet corn, 20% rye, and 10% barley aged less than four years in American oak. The whiskey is then finished in used French wine barrels - I believe once filled with Chardonnay. The result is vanilla, caramel, and baking spices on the nose with the caramel remaining through the finish.  Expect some cherry cola, banana,  and candied apricots. Any heat dissipates rather quickly. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Grain to Glass at America's First Craft Distillery: Belmont Farm Distillery

I've passed the Culpeper exit for Belmont Farm Distillery dozens upon dozens of times over the last 25 years and finally detoured off Route 29 this past weekend. I have consumed several of their spirits during this period, like their flagship Virginia Lightning -> the 100-proof corn whiskey based on a family recipe that inspired Chuck Miller to open the distillery in 1988 and become "America's First Craft Distillery." Miller was also adamant about using a 3000-gallon copper pot still (constructed in 1933) to distill the mash and a doubler where the spirit was further distilled to increase the proof.   When he registered the distillery with the state, they received License #1 and eventually the first waiver to operate as a limited ABC store (as a farm distillery).  

Over time they released a 100% corn Kopper Kettle Vodka, which is also a regular fixture behind our bar. But on this visit, I learned more about their Kopper Kettle grains whiskies as well as a more approachable Virginia Lightning Moonshine. My flight of four whiskies started with this moonshine, which is produced by distilling the Virginia Lightning once again and cutting to 90-proof. Definitely an easier sipper. However, I learned several interesting ideas regarding infusing the original Virginia Lightning (vanilla and pineapple were two options) and it will remain my moonshine preference.

The other three whiskies in the flight were grain based starting with the American Single Malt Whiskey ($34.99) made with 100% malted barley and triple distilled in the 3,000-gallon copper pot still and cut to 86-proof using farm-purified mineral water. This is a very flavorful and approachable whiskey with vanilla and honey aromas complemented by coffee and raisins, toasted honey, and a slight semblance of smoke. 

While sipping on the Virginia Bonded Whiskey ($34.99) sample, I learned that Belmont Farm operates entirely within house, which means malting the grain, fermentation and distilling, and finally bottling and labeling.  This spirit starts as a three-grain whiskey that is soaked for two months with charred Virginia white oak and Virginia apple wood, before aging for four years in American oak barrels.  The Bonded on the label guarantees that the product (1) was made at a single distillery, (2) produced within a single distilling season, (3) aged for a minimum of four years at a federally bonded warehouse, and (4) bottled at 50% ABV.  This is an interesting whiskey with the nose stronger than the body, but then elevated again at the tail.  The final whiskey was the Kopper Kettle Rye Whiskey ($46.99), which, unfortunately, I didn't take notes on. It was decent, but not overly remarkable like the previous two offerings. 

I didn't even get into moonshiner Tim Smith's Climax Moonshine label as I wanted to focus solely on Belmont Farm's portfolio and their claim to being America's First Craft Distillery. The Moonshiners series has brought more attention to the distillery and hopefully, the distillery can cope with the additional production and visitors. Looking forward to returning during one of the Bourbon, Bluegrass, and BBQ festivals this summer. Cheers. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Craft Beer and Whiskey at the Battery and Truist Park

We leveraged our annual Washington Nationals road trip to see the Nats play the Braves and found several excellent craft beverage options in the Battery complex and within Truist Park itself.  The stadium opened in 2017 succeeding Turner Field and the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Battery is an entertainment district that surrounds the ballpark and includes a mix of shops, dining, living, and workspace - plus a brewery and distillery. 

Terrapin Beer Company is one of the oldest breweries in Georgia and has well-established name recognition throughout the U.S.   Their ATL Brew Lab opened in the Battery along with Truist Park and has entrances just outside and inside the ballpark.  As a brewpub, they partnered with Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q to provide excellent bbq to complement the brewery's large beer portfolio. Any new visitor must start with the flagship Rye Pale Ale which was first introduced in 2002 at the brewery's inception. This is still one of my favorites and pairs nicely with brisket. The Dugout Keller Pils is also a flavorful option and cleanses the palate to start anew. Finally, the Expresso Martini Imperial White Stout was a solid offering to cap the post-game festivities. Inside the stadium, the Los Bravos Mexican Lager is available with most vendors and at the Terrapin bar - which also poured a couple IPAs and the Watermelon Gose. Hit this bar before proceeding to the Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q stand in center field.

ASW Distillery operates three locations in Atlanta, with a tasting room located steps away from Truist Park providing flights as well as cocktails to Braves fans and visitors. This distillery combines the unique history of three distilling families to combine traditional, Scottish-style double copper pot distillation, with innovative, Southern-style grain-in distillation, to consider themselves Southern Pot-Still Pioneers. The whiskeys in my flight were particularly interesting with the overall favorite being the Resurgens Rye -- a revival of the Appalachian-style ryes of the past made from 100% malted rye (rather than unmalted rye and corn). Expect chocolate and a smooth finish.  

The rest of the flight featured several interesting whiskeys. The Duality Double Malt is truly unique in that it is the world’s first whiskey of its kind: fermenting two malted grains - barley & rye - fermented together in the same vessel before being distilled together and maturing in charred oak casks. A complex spirit. ASW also offers a Fiddler Bourbon series that "showcase interesting whiskies from across the country that they 'fiddle with' to create new flavor profiles". The Fiddler Unison Bourbon "marries a foraged high-wheat bourbon, with our own in-house, high-malt bourbon that we distilled by hand on our traditional, double copper pot stills".  And the Fiddler Heartwood Bourbon "begins with the same foraged high-wheat mash bill as Fiddler Unison Bourbon. We then finish it on hand-harvested, charred Georgia white oak heartwood staves that we hand-charred and placed in the barrels for the final few months of maturation".  A failed in keeping tasting notes, but remember being highly satisfied with both. Until our next trip to the Battery, cheers. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Craft Beer and Rum Agricole in Lafayette, Louisiana

It looks like Lafayette, Louisiana will be our second home for the next 4-5 years and I'm excited about the small craft beverage scene in the city and parish. And these establishments take advantage of the numerous sugarcane fields in Cajun country. The excitement started last year during our first trip and a lengthy visit to Parish Brewing Company in neighboring Broussard. Their flagship beer is Canebrake - a wheat ale augmented with sugarcane syrup from Louisiana sugarcane. The Double IPA Ghost in the Machine is another popular beer but I prefer the Envie -- a juicy pale ale. And a new favorite is the refreshing Parish Pilsner. Yet, a conversation about Parish Brewing must include the SIPS sour series. On our first visit, we returned home with the Sips Pinot Noir Black Current Berliner Weisse (as we did this trip) - a juicy and tart sour ale brewed with what its name suggests. On this trip, we were able to finally sample Sips Chardonnay Apricot Berliner Weisse - a citrus and stone fruit version with a little less tartness and sourness. The future question will be how much I can fit into our return trips without having to utilize their shipping services.

Wildcat Brothers Distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in Louisiana and holds post-prohibition license #2. This Lafayette rum distillery leverages the local sugarcane and a proprietary distilling method to create rum in the agricole style directly from fermented sugarcane.  Co-owners David Meaux and Tait Martin both trace their ancestry to the original Acadians who were exiled from Eastern Canada and Maine after refusing to pledge loyalty to the Crown in the mid-18th century. Furthermore, Meaux's grandfather purchased 750 acres of land in southern Louisiana that contained forests of long-leaf pine and various hardwoods as well as a mixture of fruit trees. These trees would have a very important role to play in the future of the distillery.  Wildcat Brothers' signature spirit is the 40-proof Sweet Crude white rum which is a very clean spirit offering both honey and sugar notes.  The Fifolet Spiced Rum is a finely balanced spirit where the baking spices and coffee do not overwhelm and overshadow the base rum. Sip slowly and enjoy. The final rum we tasted was the most interesting; the Noire is an aged rum -- aged in barrels made from the various timber harvested in the Meaux homestead. This "unique combination of charred ancestral hardwoods and Louisiana fruit trees has resulted in an entirely uncommon and delicious flavor profile." And we agree. There's vanilla and tobacco, plus an odd assortment of fruit flavors, providing a Bourbon-ish profile intertwined with the sweet honey of the sugarcane. 

Adopted Dog Brewing is the latest craft beverage establishment to spring up and the only one in the city of Lafayette. Based on the large number of families during our visit word of their recent opening has spread. Unlike the previous two establishments, there's a full kitchen onsite making this an excellent lunch or dinner option. Try the Crispy Brussels appetizer.  As for beer, I partook in a flight consisting of the Fleur de Lis Golden Lager, Sunny as Helles Lager, Krayt Dragonfruit Sour, and the Oatmeal as Cream Pie Porter.  All were well-made beers, very clean for the first two, slightly sour for the third, and a dessert finale. Looking forward to more meals at Adopted Dog.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Etyek-Buda Szentesi Zengő

The Etyek-Buda PDO has many unique characteristics regarding Hungarian wine regions. It is very small (1,652 hectares of vineyards) and the closest to Budapest -- located just over the Buda Hills and extending southwest to Lake Velence (Hungary’s second largest lake) near the former royal city Szekesfehervar and southwest to the slopes of the Gerecse hills.  The climate here is influenced not by one, but by three geographical features; the Alfold plains to the south, Lake Balaton to the west, and the mountain winds from the Carpathians to the north. These winds help make this one of the coldest climate regions in Hungary with an average temperature of 9.5° to 10.5° C (49° to 51° F).  The soils are predominately limestone and these rolling hills have historically been planted with international varieties used in sparkling wine production: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, even Sauvignon Blanc is used to produce Asti-like sparklers. Törley, Hungary’s largest sparkling wine producer, has been producing sparkling wine from Etyek-Buda grapes since 1882.  

Szentesi Pince is another producer utilizing grapes from this area and more importantly, József Szentesi has been instrumental in re-introducing older grape varieties lost during the phylloxera scourge in the late 19th century back to the region. In 1988, "after studying 19th-century viticultural and oenological works, he decided to plant 10 forgotten white and blue grape varieties. He requested canes from the Viticulture and Wine Research Institute of the University of Pécs and began propagating and planting the varieties around Lake Velence".  Today this endeavor has expanded to 30 grape varieties planted on 14 hectares of vines. According to the winery, and common sense suggests, that "experimenting with nearly 30 varieties is extremely challenging since in each vintage you have to hit the right harvest time exactly thirty times, you have to process thirty distinct grapes, and you have to deal with thirty different wines separately".

The Zengő grape is one of these grapes and is a Hungarian crossing (of Ezerjó and Bouvier) created in 1951 by Ferenc Király -- an agricultural scientist and prolific creator of grape crossings. "Working at different grape research institutes across the country, he spent most of his life studying aromatic grape varieties. He created some other Hungarian varieties, and he seemed to like the letter Z—Zefír, Zenit, Zeta, Zeusz. Zengő is only grown in Hungary, mostly in Etyek-Buda, around Balaton, and occasionally in Eger. It produces aromatic wines with good acidity, and it is usually used in blends." It is also most likely named after the highest peak of the Mecsek Hills, located in southwest Hungary. More interesting is that the grape buds early, but ripens slowly -- allowing time for the acidity and complexity to mature.  It seems to thrive on volcanic tuff soils and in cooler climates.

I purchased the Szentesi Zengő 2020 ($23.90) through the Taste Hungary wine club and their shipment of  Szentesi’s Grapes from the Past. This Zengő is from the Nadap vineyard where the vines were first planted in 1988. The grape thrives in the cooler Etyek-Buda region with its limestone volcanic soils. This is a complex wine, full-bodied and textured with layers of tropical and stone fruits with a little baking spices on the tail. Expect fresh acidity throughout.