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Shots in the Dark


Shots in the Dark: Binny’s Spirits Experts Get a Taste of Humble Pie

I’m the lucky one here. All I have to do is round up the spirits, funnel them into generic bottles, photograph the bottles, head down to the South Loop Binny’s, get Brett Pontoni and Pat Brophy to focus long enough to taste these four spirits. I’ll need to take careful notes, then edit the whole thing down to a compelling narrative that stays true to the conversation.

But they have to get through a blind tasting. I do not envy them.


Sample A

Pat runs through all four first. He talks as he tastes. “Not much on the nose. Spirited. A little thin up front but it finishes long. Sweet and peppery. You brought me bourbon, and I’m struggling to figure out which. Could be Blanton’s. It’s too sweet though. Not enough vanilla or dry enough to be Elijah Craig. Young and spirity on the nose, which leads me to believe that it could have been aged in smaller barrels and could be from a micro distillery. Something like a Hudson. This is wild.”
I ask him for a thumbs up or thumbs down. He takes his time, sums up his descriptors.
“Corn puddin’ nose, balanced by some brown sugar and maple. Medium body, nice finish, long. Thumbs up, whatever this is.”

Brett’s next, and Pat sits in while he tastes. He sniffs all four samples, guessing this sample as bourbon or Canadian. He works his way back around.
“Fairly lean. Decent enough I suppose. Tastes young. Not much finish. Not real developed, not a ton of wood on it. That could also be a sign of a Canadian that had too much G.N.S. and crap added to it.”
“G.N.S.?” I ask.
“Grain Neutral Spirits,” Brett explains. “With Canadian whiskey, a lot of the final blend can be G.N.S.”

I try not to raise my eyebrows or offer any clues. Next time I’ll do this double blind. They’re offering all the descriptors I would for this whiskey. I’m fighting the urge not to tell them to listen to themselves and what they’re describing.

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Brophy’s Barrel + Bonus Barrel Bonanza!




It has now been two weeks since we filled our 1-liter barrel with Lemon Hart 151, plenty of time for the overproof rum to soak up influences from the barrel and the tequila that last filled it. Joe Maloney and I tasted the aged Lemon Hart together. What’s really interesting is that this rum has a lot of character on its own, so we’re guessing that more time in the wood can only settle it down a little.


On the nose, the brown sugar that absolutely dominates Lemon Hart has toned way down. There’s a lot more spice, anise and fruit. Joe yelled out “Holy Pepper Pat Man!” So I guess he gets lots of peppery notes. On the palate, the fat sweetness is still there, now underlined with layers of smoke and cooked asparagus. The heavy molasses remains, but this vegetal, peppery quality has joined it.


I like the added dimensiosn the Lemon Hart gained. Joe does not. Lemon Hart is all about the Demerara sugar and heat as is. The addition of subtle smoke is nice. I don’t find the vegetal asparagus note from the tequila to be too much. At any rate, it was a cool experiment.

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The Whiskey Hotline Holiday Update


Check out the newest update to the The Whiskey Hotline. With this Holiday update, we dive into pressing topics such as:


What’s on our Wish List

A New Vodka That Isn’t Candy Flavored

Many Boxing Puns – The Great Journey

The Krauter Liqueur – A Spirit’s Mysterious Appeal

Innuendo Themed Liqueur – Mamajuana’s Aphrodisiac Qualities

Absolute Knuckle Clenching Excitement

Busy, Cold People

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2009 Vintage Tasting


   If you’re into Bordeaux, or even wine in general, you probably already know how awesome the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux event is, and you don’t need me to sell it to you. Go order your tickets now! If you are interested in reading more about the event, check out this post on the Binny’s Blog. I use too many words and try to get poetic, but it’s pretty clear how exciting the UGC tasting is.


UGC 2009 Bordeaux Tasting

Presented by Binny’s Beverage Depot

Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers

Thursday, January 26th, 6-8p


   For the uninitiated, what they do is this: a bunch of Chateaux from Bordeaux (over 100 this year?) showcase their wines, all from a recent vintage. That includes reds, whites, and the amazing sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. This year they’re showcasing the highly lauded 2009 vintage. 

   So what you have is a collection of amazing wines plus the chance to talk to knowledgable representatives (including estate owners), all in a posh environment surrounded by other wine enthusiasts. Don’t miss this chance – tickets will sell out early. Follow this link to see participating chateaux, to see FAQ, and to order tickets. You can also stop by your favorite Binny’s Beverage Depot to get tickets, but online ordering is easier.

   Any other questions? Post them in the comments below. See you there!

Top 6 Beer Myths Revealed

Some of us beer buyers at Binny’s hear the same questions day in and day out. And sometimes when we tell people that ideas they have believed in their entire lives are in fact nothing but old wives tales, well lets just say that their reactions can vary.  But generally they look at us like we are crazy.  Anyways, we stumbled across this beer article this morning, and thought it did justice to debunk some of the mythical beer beliefs that we hear about every day.


Top 6 beer myths revealed…

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A Brewing Controversy

Some brewers, including Boston Beer Company brewers of Sam Adams are threatening price increases.

   Beer retailers around Chicago received a notice last Friday from The Boston Beer company outlining price increases on their products to take effect in February of 2012. To justify these increases, they cite a 68% rise in the cost of barley.

   To be very clear, we are talking about a retail increase of one dollar per six pack and one dollar per twelve pack. That is a substantial increase.

   Boston Beer Company suggests that the prices of other domestics will reflect increased commodity costs to a lesser extent. They defend their higher increases by pointing out their higher barley content per bottle.

   Boston Beer Company also lists identical per case price increases on their other major product: Twisted Tea. We weren’t aware that Twisted Tea was such a high gravity flavored malt beverage.

   We do believe that the costs of commodities such as barley are rising, but we think it is disingenuous to use them justify excessive, across-the board price increases.

   These increases aren’t being dictated by cost alone. They are driven by market research and price elasticity of demand. We would prefer the honest truth, that they think consumers will pay more for their product because it is good. 

   Why should you care? Like it or not,  Sam Adams sets the industry standard for craft beer, and this move will be reflected in price tags up and down the beer aisle from other national brands to all your favorite local micros.

Quick Flight, Small Pours


2011 brought news of Scotch in a can – and now wine in a can.
It’s on our wish list, not yet available in Chicago.


From The New York Times: Bourbon’s All-American Roar.
Don’t miss the slideshow of stunning photos accompanying the article.
We’d like more love for the little guys, but it’s good to get people talking whiskey.


Are you in the rye fan club?
Sigh. We were drinking rye before it was cool.
Is rye the Apple of the spirits world?


The last few weeks of December always bring press on Champagne.
Asimov’s non-obligatory article is interesting.
So is this one focusing on the little guys that gets beyond RM.



Binny’s Commercial: BIG HURT BEER


Binny’s is proud to stock Big Hurt Beer – the new full flavored, heavy hitting lager in a 24 oz can from former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt took some time out of his busy schedule of in-store appearances to talk about this new project and to swing a baseball bat around in a store full of glass bottles.



Thanks Big Hurt! Glad to see you hit another grand slam with Big Hurt Beer! If you’re looking for more Binny’s commercials and other videos from your favorite Beverage Depot, check the Binny’s YouTube channel.

Brophy’s Bonus Barrel Bonanza


   We’ve been experimenting with aging spirits in a one-liter barrel for a couple of months now and hope you’ve been following along. We recently got our hands on a second little wooden barrel for our experiments, and we decided to do something drastic. Something we don’t do often and something we aren’t very good at. We decided to follow the instructions.

   That barrel you see there on the right is from the Cedar Ridge Age Your Own Whiskey Kit – a great gift idea that comes with a barrel, bottle of Cedar Ridge Unaged Whiskey, and instructions that tell you how to age the whiskey on your own. We figured this was our chance to get back to basics and age some white whiskey as the kit was intended. 

   We tasted fresh Cedar Ridge Unaged Whiskey before putting it into the barrel, and we have to say that this is some of the best … well … least offensive white whiskey we’ve tasted. The nose has the familiar herbal notes common in unaged whiskey, but the Cedar Ridge is cleaner, lighter. Peppery on the palate, spicy, but the alcohol is in check. It might help that this is 100 proof; new make usually has more alcohol. Overall, this is a light, spicy and fresh spirit. 

   We’ll open up the barrel and taste it from time to time to watch its evolution. Check back to see Brophy’s Barrel soon. We’re really looking forward to seeing where this goes!

Binny’s Mailbag: Getting into Scotch


We answer a lot of questions from The Binny’s Mailbag, and it seems like a common theme is getting one’s foot in the door to the world of Scotch. For example:



   I have always enjoyed bourbon but have recently been intrigued by single malt scotch. Admittedly I don’t have much knowledge about scotch. That being said I am hoping that you could give some background knowledge on scotch and give me a few ideas as where to start (i.e. what is a good beginner scotch and possibly some other single malts to start).

Thanks a lot,



Hi M,

   We always recommend starting a voyage through single malts with some whiskies from Speyside or the Highlands. You’ll find a great amount of variety in the flavor and profile of single malts depending on the region of Scotland that they come from. Generally malts from these regions won’t be peaty or smokey and will focus more on fruity, floral, and caramel/toffee flavors.

   Age matters with Scotch, but not as much as some people insist. You can find some great introductions to the style in Glenlivet 12 year, Glenfiddich 12 year, and Glenmorangie 10 year. Glenlivet is soft and floral, Glenfiddich is slightly fuller and finishes with some spice, and Glenmorangie is sweet and smooth.

   When you’re tasting whisky, try to take note of the specific flavors or characteristics you like, and those you don’t. Being aware of this will help you narrow down what you really like and guide you when you pick out your next bottle.

   Let us know how it goes! Cheers!

 – Binny’s Mailbag

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