A Visit to Vendome – Still Makers

September 30, 2013 § 10 Comments

Last week marks the 2nd private tour I’ve had in my life of a custom still making facility.   The first happened 1.5 years ago in Scotland when I went with my good friend Chip (Chip Tate of Balcones) to tour Forsyths (click HERE to see that post).  The second happened again with Chip but this time in Kentucky, USA when he and I were in Louisville to receive our respective Icons of Whisky awards (personal plug: YAY!!!!!! GO BRENNE!!!!  That was such an exciting moment for me.  I shared the experience in a short blog post on my Brenne site HERE if you’re interested.  Also, HUGE congrats to all of the winners, including Chip who won Icon’s Craft Distiller of the Year for the 2nd time!).

Much to our surprise, after the awards ceremony, everyone – including many of the guys who actually live in Louisville – took off to various cities leaving Chip and I all by ourselves.   …This was not a problem 😉

We piled our things into a taxi and took off to Vendome.  Upon arrival, Gordon Lung, Vendome’s Project Manager, and the Shop Foreman greeted us with smiles and hard hats (ok, there weren’t hardhats this time as we arrived right after they stopped working for the day – but I was ready to suit-up Safety Style like I did at Forsyths!)

AllisonPatel_ChipTate

I can only guess that we looked a bit like a fancy clown car.  Chip – whom I’ve seen for years almost exclusively wearing his carhartts – was nicely dressed in a fitted suit and I in stilettos and a silk dress … just the perfect outfits to tour a massive metal-smith shop!  With our Icons awards and our caravan of cases & bags holding bottles of Balcones & Brenne safely in the shop, we jumped right into geek-heaven, talking about alloys, welding techniques, still shapes & sizes (of which there were MANY!) and all the time comparing the different techniques between the Vendome & Forsyths artists (and artists they are).

1_Vendome_Still

From what I understand, there are only 2 still manufacturers left in the world who create truly customized stills.  And Gordon is the man who takes a distiller’s visions from dreams into fully functioning stills.  He showed us one still that he completely engineered himself based off a single, 2 dimensional drawing with limited information on size & scale – a skill I so deeply admire and find nearly impossible to get my head around.

There are other still-making companies out there who have set sizes and shapes which people can piece together to “design” a still suited for their needs – but to go from the ground up with a unique concept to full completion – there is only Vendome & Forsythe.   Both of these shops are not open to the public, you’re not able to tour them as they are fully working facilities that keep our great distilleries functioning all year round.  However, both were extremely generous to not just take Chip and I around but also let me take a few photos to share with you here on my blog.  So it’s my honor and pleasure to be able to show you a small glimpse inside Vendome, a magical place from which many of our great American whiskies get their start.

*** Please respect the photos on this blog as they are all owned exclusively by Local Infusions.  If you re-blog or share, please reference my photos as “© Local Infusions” and link them back to my blog.  Thank you.***

2_Vendome_Still

3_Coils

4_Still_TopThe stainless steel oval “bubble” on the above still tops right side (left side when looking AT the photo) is a gin ‘basket’ – where you would fill with your botanicals and direct the distillate to run through that area as it came off the still rather than having it go up the main copper neck.

7_Welding_Helmut

I saw this welding helmet out of the corner of my eye and maneuvered through a particularly complicated area (only tricky for a heel-wearing person) to get this photo.  In a sea of black welding helmets, I just thought this mask is so bad a** – so American – so right to see in the middle of a Kentucky still making facility.

The next 3 photos are all related to one another.  This is a small section (<though massive in size) of one of our country’s largest whisky distiller’s column stills.  It’s kind of like looking at a cat-scan of the column, allowing us to see inside a section their rather HUGE stills.

8_JackDaniel_ColumnInside these columns are thousands of cross sections of tiny copper tubs, creating ample opportunity for the distillate to react with the metal.  The sheer size of this blew my mind.  I couldn’t even stand back enough to get a photo of this piece in its entirety and this is only a SMALL SECTION  of just one part of one still(!!!), which alone was bigger then a few of the full-size stills around the shop.

9_JackDaniel_ColumnAbove are the sections of copper tubing that fit together like puzzle pieces inside the column (below) to create horizontal “beds” of copper tubing to react with the distillate as it rises through the column.

10_JackDaniel_ColumnI took the below photo because we were discussing just how tall the columns are on these stills and Gordon said that they couldn’t fit standing upright in Vendome’s space but would have to be laid down (and take up a majority of the room below – crazy!).

5_Vendome_ShopBelow Gordon, Chip and I took turns knocking different areas of this particular piece of cooling copper to hear how the pitches change when the metal is at various temperature (the different colors also indicate the variety of temperatures of the metal).

6_Copper_Cooling

11_Top

12_Still_Handles

13_CopperCLEARLY these pieces are hand-made … I love seeing the hammer marks and “dings” (above) of an artist’s work in progress.  These will get smoothed out in time (below) but it’s quite beautiful to see stills in the making.

14_Vendome_Still

One of the things I love most about “whisky” is the people.  It takes an army to keep this industry moving forward and there is a real brotherhood/sisterhood about it.  Obviously everyone wants (& needs) to make money – but the majority of people who actually make the spirits and the stills are here because they really love it.   It’s a true honor to work in this industry and be able to share some of these inside moments with you here on my blog.  I THANK YOU for your support of my posts which keep me coming back to share and write more & more.

Feeling the Love: In the Midst of a 3-State Launch

May 3, 2013 § 7 Comments

To say I enjoy getting to know everyone who makes up the vast & ever-expanding whisky community would be an understatement, I love it.  It keeps me going & it’s often the best part of my day.

As many of you know, I launched my own whisky (Brenne) on October 1, 2012 and sold it exclusively in New York for the first 6 months.  However, on April 1, I did a 3 State roll-out and have been traveling around ever since, meeting a whole new wave of devoted whisky fans.

And it’s been awesome.

Brenne_Expanding

First, I thank everyone who has come out to support me at my events in Boston, MA and Chicago, IL and to all of you who live in Nashville, TN, check out my rockin’ line-up of events next week: CLICK HERE for current schedule!

Despite the long (ok, very long) days and even longer nights, the countless hours at airports and in rental cars, getting to meet wonderful people who share an equal love for all things whisky is truly special.

On my last night in Chicago, IL, the brilliant & easy-going Monique Huston (on twitter at @WhiskySommelier) arranged a private sold-out dinner in which Peter Currie of Duncan Taylor, Chip Tate of Balcones, & I with Brenne presented, discussed, and enjoyed whiskies with about 40 of the midwest’s – and beyond – top Whisky Geeks (for definition, click HERE).  It was a special evening held in the basement of The Peasantry restaurant where we dined, sipped, discussed, debated and shared all things ‘whisky’ for hours with the likes of Mahesh Patel (of Universal Whisky Experience) and Brett Pontoni (of Binny’s).

Bottles

The next morning … we were feeling a little goofy!

Peter & Chip playing around with the netting that protects your hair, er, I mean the bottles. :)

Peter & Chip playing around with the netting that protects your hair, er, I mean the bottles. 🙂

Feel the hair net love

Feel the hair net love

Suffice it to say, it was a fun trip but one that also proved to be very successful.  While we’re still having some red-tape issues with the state of IL and haven’t been able to ship out their first order of Brenne, something awesome did happen during my time there.  After the 2nd night (and a super-rocking sold-out massive Whisky festival at one of Binny’s stores) I got the word that Binny’s, who was originally going to do a 10-store roll out with Brenne, decided to up the ante and do a full, all locations, 29-store roll out!!!  That’s pretty exciting for anyone but especially so for a can’t-get-smaller-than-mine 1-person company!  Thanks Brett & the whole team at Binny’s! Can’t wait to get going there!

Snoopy_Happy_Dance

I can’t describe the feeling when individuals, stores, restaurants & distributors place re-orders for something that you’ve created.  It’s exhilarating, exciting, sometimes in a weird way a tad bit scary, and definitely for me sits somewhere between pride & humility.  There is no greater compliment then when someone buys that second drink, or second bottle, or double’s their order realizing that this is something they want to get behind.  And as I’ve said since the beginning, THANK YOU, and you all keep me very humble and make me want to work even harder.

Just the other day, I got this photo along with an event announcement on twitter from The Bottle Shop at McEwen, a store I’ll be visiting in Nashville, TN.  Talk about a beautiful tower of whisky!!!!!

Brenne Whisky Tower @ the Bottle Shop McEwen in Franklin, TN

Brenne Whisky Tower @ the Bottle Shop McEwen in Franklin, TN

So now I’m gearing up to leave NYC again for another much-anticipated Brenne launch week and I’m feeling excited, blessed, grateful & super-charged!  Next stop, Nashville, TN!!!!

plane

Balcones 5th Anniversary Dinner – April 6 in NYC

March 28, 2013 § 1 Comment

UPDATE: Since publishing this post, this particular event has been cancelled. There are definitely other Balcones events going on while Chip’s here so if you’re interested, please check out NYCwhisky.com for the most current list of whisky happenings in NYC! 🙂

I didn’t mean to do 2 event announcement posts back-to-back BUT next week the whisky circus rolls into NYC with the NY WhiskyLive event, the World Whisky Conference and whatever other events everyone is doing while they’re here and I thought this other one ought to be shared!

My good friend (& extremely talented distiller) Chip Tate of Balcones will be one of the many distillers in NYC next week.  And in addition to WhiskyLive, he is also celebrating the 5th Anniversary of Balcones!!!

Balcones_Header

To celebrate, he’s doing a dinner at Harlow Restaurant in NYC that is open to the public (limited tickets available).  Here a copy of the press release I received – I’ll definitely be there and can’t wait!  Dying to try Chip’s NEWEST RELEASE, his Fifth Anniversary Straight Bourbon [64.2%] that just took Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition!

Anniversary_Dinner_Balcones_NYC

Hope to see you there! Please share below if you’re going, have experienced the Balcones line before or perhaps if you’ve met Chip! (or anything else you’d like to share, open forum here, folks) 🙂

Balcones very special Rumble Cask Reserve tasting TOMORROW!

June 25, 2012 § 7 Comments

Hello whisky friends!  It’s time to mark your calendars!

You know every time my distiller friends roll into town – there are crazy whisky adventures to be had.  Well, now I’m giving you a headsup and a chance to join in on the fun.  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you read about it later!).

Chip Tate, head distiller and founder of the Balcones Distillery in Waco, TX is coming into town for the New York Bar & Restaurant Show and the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition … ok, you say, so what’s in it for me?  Glad you asked!

While he’s here, he will be doing a FREE tasting event on Tuesday, June 26th, 6:30pm-8:30pm at one of my favorite spots: the Brandy Library. (25 North Moore Street in Tribeca)

Aside from meeting Chip, what makes this extra cool is the under-the-radar/not-announced-till-right-now secret bottles that he’ll be pouring.  He’s pulled some crazy awesome barrel samples (whisky that’s taken directly from the barrel and put into a bottle), marked the glass bottles with a Sharpie marker and will be bringing them to NYC.  Awesomeness.

He’ll also have his SUPER LIMITED Rumble Cask Reserve (RCR) that’s finally launching in NY.  Last I checked, there were less then 300 bottles of this… ever.

Here are my tasting notes on the RCR:

ABOUT: Made exactly the way you make whisky but with one substitution, the ingredients!  This is made from figs, sugar & honey.  Fermented together, distilled & aged in a variety of American & French oak barrels.  This is the CASK STRENGTH version of his RUMBLE

NOSE: rich honey, drying rose petals, older leather, dehydrated apples

PALATE: smooth caramel and burnt sugar to start, a pleasant  journey which rolls moves the heavier notes quickly over the tongue

FINISH: long but light mouthfeel, honeysuckle flower into clove and black pepper on the end

WhiskyLive NYC 2012 – REVIEW

April 13, 2012 § 6 Comments

Anyone who knows me or who follows me on twitter probably knows that I attended the WhiskyLive NYC show this past Wednesday as I was practically jumping out of my skin with excitement! And this year surely did not disappoint.

It’s one of my favorite nights of the year – a time to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and drink some seriously stand-out drams.   And may I just give my sincerest apologies to everyone who I either didn’t mention here or didn’t have a chance to visit.  I could have easily used another 4 hours!

Photo (c) of The Whisky Woman, 2012

My first stop was quite intriguing … Notch Single Malt Whisky from Nantucket.  Notch partners with Cisco Brewers who makes a special beer for them from Maris Otter malt (which has an interesting history for a grain & according to Wikipedia, is “acknowledged right across the brewing world as the finest-quality malt available”).  This beer, or wort, is then moved to the Triple Eight Distillery to distill in a small copper pot still where just the heart cut of the distillate is used and aged for 8 years in ex-bourbon and finished in French oak Merlot wine casks from local Nantucket wineries.

Now, this was a really enjoyable dram but what I can’t understand is the price.  $888 for a 750ml bottle.  I am sure they didn’t have the price match the name of the distillery to be cute … but I just can’t get my head around this!  Remember, this was my first stop so I know my brain was still quite sharp – but I didn’t hear them mention the addition of 24k gold or a unicorn horn as a “gift with purchase” so not wanting to further interrupt the interview they were doing with Gregg from DistilleryAge.com, I snapped the above photo promised them I would be following up … and you bet I will be!  Asap.

Next stop, Balvenie!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Now you know you’re a #WhiskyBadAss when you show up to an event with your own malting floor!  David Stewart and team, you guys are my heroes. (If you missed it, check out my earlier post of my visit to this distillery HERE)

I always enjoy my time with the happy and wonderfully talented Balvenie crew.  David and I caught up over a beautiful glass of their 14yr Caribbean Cask Single Malt which was divine.  They actually bring rum over from the Caribbean in tanks – not in casks – and fill their casks with the rum for 6 months.  Once they have their barrels perfectly seasoned with the rum, they remove it and replace the rum with their 14yr single malt to finish for 6 months prior to bottling.  Pretty cool, huh?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman

Hey – are we taking each others photo!? Silly social media whisky geeks (myself included)! Smile!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman

The Whisky Peddler.  Only available online HERE out of the World Of Liquor store in New Jersey.  Unbelievably yummy.  Patrick is smart.  He purchased two very interesting casks from notable distilleries in Scotland; one from Glen Grant and one from Highland Park.  You may ask (as I did) why buy his whiskies over buying a 14 year directly from the producer?  Because for both of these malts, he purchased the casks and kept them aging only in their ex-bourbon casks – no sherry finish on these beauts – and let me tell you simply – wow.  I was really happy standing here.  And at $52 or $60 / bottle, it keeps me baffled by the $888 price tag on the Notch …

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Off to the Cocktail’s Live area!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

A toast with Kat Valentina – the fab mixologist from LA who was brought in to serve up a very tasty creamy-whiskey cocktail:

2 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey, .5 oz Sambuca, .75 oz Rum Chata & 2 oz of chilled coffee

… can we say mid-show pick me up?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Whisky & chocolate – a great pairing.  Lucky for us, the hyper-talented chocolatier, Roni-Sue, was there serving up her unique bonbons and pairing them with such lovelies as Laphroaig and Basil Hayden!  I loved their Dark & Stormy truffle: dark chocolate ganache that features Goslings dark rum, fresh ginger and lime zest – all I tasted was pure deliciousness.

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Glen Garioch paired up with Murray’s Cheese, an excellent cheese shop in NYC (and luckily right down the street from me!) to create a cheddar that pairs specifically with the Glen Garioch whiskies.  HOW COOL IS THAT!?  I’ll be there tomorrow picking up a good wedge for this weekend!  The whiskies are great – balanced, smooth and perfectly complimented by the tangy-creaminess of the cheese.  At this point, though, it was too crowded and my glass was too coated with other whiskies to get accurate tasting notes but I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my next Scotch-run.

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman

Finish off with hug, dram and special (secret) Bourbon-Ball (a dark chocolate & Smooth Ambler bourbon bon-bon) from John Little, head-distiller at Smooth Ambler, and it was time for the after party!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Now I don’t know how you travel to an after party … but I’m the kind of gal who likes to arrive in style so if that means negotiating a limo ride for some whisky for myself and my beloved whisky-family, like Balcones’ Chip Tate, Compass Box’s Robin Robinson and Kat Valentina … then so be it! 🙂

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Off to Ward III we went!  It was another amazing night!  Congrats Dave Sweet for organizing yet another stellar event!  Slainte!

A visit to Forsyths – the great whisky still makers

March 30, 2012 § 16 Comments

Forsyth copper still - in the making. Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the most unique tour in Speyside, Scotland.  A tour that is quite uncommon and not available to the public – and one that I will remember for the rest of my life  (in a way that only a true whisky-geek could).

I walked the grounds of the Forsyths facility – the Forsyth facility.  You know the guys … the ones responsible for creating and maintaining all of the equipment that goes in to making that beautiful dram in your hand.  The stills.  The beautiful copper stills.  To the likes of Balvenie and Bruichladdich, from Kavalan to one day soon, Balcones.  These are the original still masters and they continue today to make the stills by hand – 3 generations later.

A most sincere THANK YOU to Richard Forsyth for being such a generous host and to Chip Tate (Balcones) for the awesome & unforgettable invitation.

So, put on your hard hat and your ear plugs, this Whisky Woman is going to let you peep inside this magnificent palace of constant construction!

A massive Irish still in the making - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Hello beautiful! Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Forsyth stills - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

That's a mighty large fermentation tank, you got there!
Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Safety first! Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Base of a massive still destined for Ireland - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Copper talk @ Forsyth - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Yours truly modeling her hard hat - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The neck of a still being worked on by hand - so cool! - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The day ended with a few shared glasses of whisky and a solid game of pool.  Naturally, I was on the winning team – kicking butt with my rock-star partner, Richard.

A great game of pool - I won (but only with a ton of help from my partner, Richard Forsyth) 😉 - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

And just to come full circle, Richard’s father (also Richard Forsyth) was awarded the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award in London later that week.  Congratulations Richard on receiving such a high honor and much deserved recognition.

Whisky Events Roundup (part 2)

November 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

Well, I am happy to say that this season has not let me down!  The calendar keeps filling up, the events get better and better, and these days, I often find myself between a [preferably full] glass of whisky, great company and my next flight … I swear, if it weren’t for my recent swing of hating mornings, I would have otherwise thought I were living in a dream!

To follow up from the Whisky Events Roundup Part 1 post from last week, today, I give you Part 2!

LOUISVILLE, KY

Fall time in Louisville!

Icons of Whisky Awards by Whisky Magazine

What: Annual awards ceremony at the historic Seelbach Hotel where Whisky Magazine presents the winners of the Icons of the Year awards for American distillers, distilleries, retailers and brand ambassadors.

Who: The who’s who of American whisky.  Tom Bulleit (Bulleit Bourbon & Rye), Jimmy Russel (Wild Turkey), Julian & Preston Van Winkle (Old Rip/Pappy Van Winkle), Jim Rutledge (Four Roses), Kevin Smith (Maker’s Mark), Damian Riley-Smith (Whisky Magazine), David Sweet (Whisky Magazine), Mark Gillespie (Whisky Magazine & WhiskyCast), a few awesome folks from Buffalo Trace & Heaven Hill…  Of course there were others but I couldn’t get everyone’s card (though I did try!).  My apologies to everyone who I missed on this list.  It was such an amazing group of whisky-lovers I was honored to have been a part.

Holy cow: My dear friend and esteemed industry partner, Chip Tate of Balcones Distillery (who my company represents abroad and with whom we have starting to do some work with together state-side, more fun details later!) but he WON the ICON OF WHISKY AWARD for best CRAFT DISTILLER!!!!  This is HUGE and wonderful news and I couldn’t be more proud of Chip, his team and all of their dedicated hard work.  I know it feels great to be recognized and this is so well deserved!  Congratulations!!!!

Lunch at the Whisky Round Table

YAY!!! Chip Tate won Craft Distiller of the Year!!!!

Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year Award ... and the winner is.... BUFFALO TRACE for their Single Oak Project

...and the Whiskey Distiller of the Year is..... Jim Rutledge, head distiller at Four Roses!!!

Congratulations!!!

YES!!!! That's right!!! Go Chip! Go Balcones!

And after a long night of celebrating, we needed something hearty the next day. Loving the living in the South

This event was so important and awe-inspiring that I thought it deserved the full attention of this particular post.  Tomorrow I will publish the 3rd, and final, post to the Whisky Events Roundup series.  Thanks for reading!!!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Balcones at The Whisky Woman.

%d bloggers like this: