Posted: May 14, 2009
I get this question alot, from both our suppliers and from Binny's shoppers. The suppliers of course want to know what category might provide them another business opportunity, but our shoppers really want to know "what's new?" is there something I might be missing? One interesting recent development is the introduction of a number of clear, unaged grain spirits, basically precursors that with oak cask aging would eventually be called whiskey. As for style, think vodka with actual distinct character. Call them Moonshine, White Lightning, White Dog, New Make, call them whatever, some of these new grain spirits are well worth checking out, I want to tell you about 4 new bottlings from two different distilleries. First, I want to welcome Chicago's newest distillery, Koval. The dream of 3rd generation distiller Robert Birnecker and his wife Sonat, Koval joins Lake Bluff's outstanding North Shore on the local scene. Certified both organic and Kosher, the main focus will be recreating traditional products from Robert's native Austria. Amongst their first efforts are a couple of products that aren't necessarily Austrian, but well done nonetheless. Midwest Wheat and Chicago Rye ($37.99/750ml) are both double distilled from a mash of their namesake grain and bottled at 40%abv. The first thought that hit me when trying the Midwest Wheat was holy bananas! This light but distinct and clean character carries through on the palate, with surprising weight and mouthfeel for an unaged spirits. I loved it on its own, but it also worked well with soda water, tonic, and juices like cranberry and grapefruit. The Chicago Rye delivers a nice peppery pop, as a rye veteran would expect. I was looking for some baking spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc.) character as well, it's there but very tight, think cinnamon stick or whole clove rather than ground. The palate has a nice, light sweetness to balance out the pepper, actually made quite a nice little dry martini and the salt from the olive worked well with the pepper. If you want some good insight into what a peated scotch whisky starts out as, the Wasmund's Single Malt Spirit and Rye Spirit $22.99/750ml), produced by the iconoclastic Rick Wasmund and Sean McCaskey at Sperryville, VA's Copper Fox Distillery Enterprises are great starts. The Single Malt Spirit is made with 100% hand malted barley and lightly smoked with a combination of 60% Applewood and 40% Cherry wood during the kilning process, bottled at a whopping 61.5%abv. If the Koval's had a surprising amount of sweetness, these two are all about savory and herbal. A fantastic fresh malty/grainy aroma, with a touch of the smoke greets the nose. Even uncut there is enough malty sweetness to balance the smoke and inevitable alcohol on the palate. This really does benefit from cutting with water, and once done the malty sweetness is infused with a more prominent clean smoke character. The Rye Spirit is compsed of 2/3 rye and 1/3 hand malted barley, the same smoking regimen, bottled high octane again, at 62%. The malty sweetness is more subdued on the nose and a little more smoke character comes through. If the Koval Rye had a "nice pop of pepper," this is more along the lines of "holy black pepper!" Once cut, a very nice round sweetness softens the smoke and black pepper character. I preferred both of these straight with some water to cut the alcohol, but I'm willing to bet they would also make nice dry martinis, and killer Bloody Marys.