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From the Distiller...Thumbs up!

We recently had Nancy Fraley, a Master Blender and renowned whiskey expert, visit to help us evaluate how well our whiskeys are aging. Over the course of two days, we tasted and evaluated samples from over 100 barrels. It might sound like a rough job, especially as we were tasting at barrel strength (anywhere from 115 to 130 proof, or 55-65% alcohol by volume). For comparison, most commercially available whiskeys range from 80 to 100 proof (40-50% alcohol by volume. Don’t worry about us though, there was lots of spitting involved. One would not last too long if all of the samples were swallowed.

I am thrilled to say that for the most part she was very pleased with how our whiskeys are coming along. We did find a few of our barreled whiskeys had some issues, but at fortunately the problems seemed to be associated with those particular barrels, and not with what we put in it. Just like with cars, you occasionally get a lemon (we did taste a whiskey that had some hints of lemon, which I actually thought was kind of nice). Fortunately, it won’t be spoiled whiskey. With Nancy’s help, we were able to identify ways on how we can correct those few barrels.

Nancy had visited us about 16 months ago and had made some recommendations about how to change our process, part of which included changing our source of barrels. Nancy was able to connect us up with a premier cooperage – Independent Stave Company and we started putting our whiskey in those barrels last year. We were very excited to see how the whiskey in these new barrels were aging. I am pleased to say that all three of our whiskeys (corn, rye and wheat) are aging very nicely in these superior barrels. We likely will start putting some rye into a char 4 barrel, instead of the char 3 we have been using as the boldness of our rye can hold up to a heavier char. Nancy was particularly pleased with how the wheat whiskey was progressing. She even asked if she could take some of the samples from one particular batch to add to her collection. She thought some of these, at just one year old, were better than some of the 2-year old stuff in barrels from a different cooperage. Needless to say, this thrilled me as the wheat is my personal favorite.

We also evaluated a few of my experiments. I’m going to hold off on giving all the details, but one experiment involves ingredients, and another how I distill and those both got the thumbs up as well. It is still a bit too early to say how they will ultimately turn out, but they are headed in a very good direction. The other “experiment” we evaluated was our rye that we have been finishing in port wine barrels. Six months ago, we put 3 different ryes into three different barrels that had been used to age port. One rye had first been in American oak for 3 years, one had been in French oak for 3 years, and one had been in French oak for 2 years and then transferred to an ex-bourbon barrel for six months. As it turns out, this last one was Nancy’s favorite whiskey that she tasted over the two days. She saved this sample to drink later when we were finished for the day. We hope to release that rye in September, if it’s ready. The other two barrels still need a little more time, so those will be released later.

All in all, it was a great visit with Nancy, whose expertise will surely help us as we as we strive to make our whiskeys even better!

From the Distiller...Reading Ratings

I recently read an article on Scotchwhiskey.com where the author was concerned about the apparent focus these days on the numerical value of a review of a particular product, and nothing else. He saw a lot of this in peoples use of wine ratings and expressed a concern over this taking over in whiskey too. The article made me think about how I personally have been using wine and spirit ratings and had I been guilty of focusing on the numerical score. The authors point was the score is often merely a reflection of whether the rater/judge liked it and doesn’t necessarily tell the consumer much useful information...

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From the Distiller...We've got class(es)!

Now that we are several years into making whiskey, this means we have lots of whiskey at all kinds of different ages, in different woods, etc., creating the opportunity for us to host some very interesting tastings. This means school will be open soon! We are still finalizing the syllabi and prices for our classes, but here is a rough outline of the classes we are hoping to offer. We are still debating whether to run the classes on Tuesdays, so it can be run in the tasting room or do the classes in the production area on a Thursday or Saturday evening. Let us know which classes you are interested in and what night you would prefer, and we’ll get them scheduled. If you have a group….birthday, corporate event, bachelor party, etc…that would like to set up a private class, please contact us at info@bigspringspirits.com

Click on Read More for our class descriptions and your chance to vote for the most interesting class.

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From the Distiller...These Whiskeys are Changin'

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was in New York city (finally got to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade) and took advantage of the timing to do a whiskey tasting at the Brandy Library, located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. About once a week they offer classes on a variety of spirits, usually barrel-aged, and I happened to be in town for a class on “Old” vs “New” whiskey. It was an educational and enjoyable time. The “old” wasn’t well-aged stuff--it was three bottles of old brands that are now defunct that they had purchased at auction, and they were not high-end spirits, even when the stuff was actually on the market, so they were $10-15 bottles then, around 20 years ago. We compared these with similar bottles that are currently available – all with the word “Old” in the name. The goal of this tasting was to compare where whiskey was 20-30 years ago with where whiskey is today...

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From the Distiller...Pipelines

We’ve finally gotten to the point where we have enough aged whiskeys to have a somewhat steady stream of products, so what’s coming up?  We just finished bottling our second batch of straight rye.  This is a little older than the first release and has a bit more of a cinnamon note to it.  Remember, every barrel has its own unique character.  Next up is the second bottling of our 100% wheat whiskey.  We will be dumping a barrel or two this week depending on how the ones we choose to sample from the taste.  The first batch was a special product that was done for the PSU Masters in Business Administration students and was just one year old...

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From the Distiller...What's in the Pipeline

Port wine – empty port wine barrels that is. (Actually, they should be called empty dessert-wine barrels, since technically only fortified wines made in Portugal can be labeled as “Port”). My wife and I went to a wine dinner in Philly last month at Panorama restaurant that featured one of our favorite California wineries – Biale (we belong to their wine club). It was lovely, and one of the founders of the winery (Dave Pramuk) was there leading us through the wines of the evening.  At the end of the meal, I got to chat for a bit with Dave, and apparently, his grandfather was from Shamokin, PA and had dabbled in whiskey at one point in his life, so we bounced back and forth between talking about whiskey and wine...

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