Blog: Dowd On Drinks

Annual SF medal avalanche on schedule

Memo to self:

When I start my own distillery, make a point of entering products in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Near guarantee of winning some sort of medal to use in marketing campaign.

The topic of medal awards at wine and spirits competitions has long been a contentious one. One school of thought is that if you don’t hand out a lot of medals, you won’t get a lot of entries. Another school thinks stricter standards will make the medals that are awarded more prestigious, thus encouraging more participation.

I subscribe to the latter philosophy, which is why Anthony Dias Blue’s annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition seems to be on my radar. Not that some of the very top awards aren’t worthy of such attention; it’s the sheer volume of double gold, gold, silver and bronze medals handed out each year.

At the recent SF event, judges awarded an astounding 131 double golds — not your usual golds, but double golds, an honor that require unanimous agreement from the judges.

Part of that medal avalanche comes from the fact there are so many categories — 71 of ‘em — and part from the fact the competition is known for its medal generosity. When you hand out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of medals, the entry fees alone make for a hefty pot. Add to that the organizer’s offer of rolls of award stickers to pop on your bottles — at $60 per roll of 1,000 — and the medal flood makes financial sense.

For those of you curious who walked off with the top awards, here is a list of double gold medals by category. You can get all the medal results online.

Continued...  ·  Posted on April 8, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  2 comments

Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt bouncing back

Haiti’s best-known export, Rhum Barbancourt, was hit hard during the January earthquake and aftershocks, but expects to resume bottling and shipping this month, or by mid-May.

Word from Port-au-Prince is that resumption of production comes despite an estimated $4 million in damages when bottles and oak vats, some containing precious 15-year-old rum, were destroyed in the quakes.

Thierry Gardère, general director and fourth generation in the family to run the company, told news reporters that it could take as long as four years to ramp up production to pre-disaster levels.

“It’s pretty spectacular that Barbancourt is still here, is still great, and is still setting a high standard that other companies have to match — especially at their luxury level,” said Robert Burr, the Coral Gables, FL, publisher of the Gifted Rums Guide.

The company, founded in the 19th century by a French emigré, sells about $12 million of rum annually. The U.S. is its largest export market.

Posted on April 8, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  5 comments

Burnett’s adds 20th vodka flavor

When life gives you fruits, make fruit punch And, when you have a distillery, why not make your 20th flavor of vodka?

The Burnett’s Flavored Vodka portfolio has been expanded by the addition of Fruit Punch. The new flavor is available in 1.75L, 1.0L, 750ml, and 50ml sizes, bottled at 35% alcohol by volume (70 proof). Suggested retail price for the 750ml bottle is $9.99.

The line also includes blueberry, cherry, citrus, coconut, cranberry, espresso, grape, lime, mango, orange, peach, pink lemonade, pomegranate, raspberry, sour apple, strawberry, sweet tea, vanilla, watermelon and now Fruit Punch.

Burnett’s is a brand produced by Heaven Hill Distilleries of Bardstown, KY. The parent company’s portfolio also includes The Christian Brothers Brandies, Evan Williams and Elijah Craig Kentucky straight bourbons, Hpnotiq liqueur, PAMA pomegranate liqueur, Lunazul and Two Fingers tequilas, and Dubonnet aperitif.

Posted on March 11, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  3 comments

The whisk(e)y season is dear to Ireland, Scotland

The portal is about to open on a season dear to the Gaelic and Celtic folk of Ireland and Scotland and, indeed, their millions of descendants all over the U.S.

March 20 brings in Alban Eiler, known elsewhere as the spring solstice or vernal equinox. Weather be damned, it means spring has arrived and will last until June 20, the longest day of the year, when we will encounter Alban Heruin, the summer solstice.

Flanking that date we have such frolics as St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 and Tartan Day on April 6, or close to it depending on festivitiy plans in different cities and towns.

St. Patrick’s Day honors the patron saint of Ireland who drove the snakes into the sea where they became sharks, politicians and TV reality show producers.

Tartan Day celebrates that time in A.D. 1320 when King Robert the Bruce and his Scottish parliament sent off a letter called the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope in Rome asking him to get the English off their backs. That worked so well that England rules Scotland to this day.

Both historic events, as well as the arrival of Easter, spring and a bunch of other traditional religious and secular days, will in this span be marked in many communities with once-a-year church attendance, parades, festivals, dances, silly hats and drink specials at your favorite pub — featuring Scotch and Irish whiskies, in particular.

Scotch whiskies usually are distilled twice, Irish whiskies three or four times, thus increasing their purity and smoothness. In some instances, further aging in used bourbon or sherry casks or a bit of blending creates a crossover taste between the two categories.

American whiskies vary widely, from the single malts so beloved by the Scots to blended whiskies to bourbons to Tennessee sipping whiskey, which differs from bourbon in that it undergoes a charcoal filtration process.

As is the case with most such things, there is no right or wrong, best or worst. There is only personal preference.

Posted on March 4, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  3 comments

Midwest craft brewer debuts rye-on-rye

The Midwest’s largest craft brewer has released the latest in its line of barrel-aged beers.

Boulevard Brewing Co. of Kansas City, MO, on Tuesday announced its Rye-on-Rye, the fourth in a series of limited release offerings in the Smokestack Series of artisanal beers.

The word “limited” is accurate, given that production is being limited to just 10,000 750ml bottles. It is expected to be on the market later this month.

The aging barrels were acquired last year from the Templeton Rye distillery. Two kinds of malted rye are used to make the beer, which then was aged for nearly a year in the rye barrels. It is being bottled at 11% alcohol by volume.

Boulevard Brewing’s seasonal and year-round are available in 12 Midwestern states, with selected offerings sold in nine other states.

Posted on February 17, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  4 comments

Something to toast Benedictine’s 500th

NEW YORK — Unless the topic is coal or oil, it is not often one can write about a 500-year-old product.

That’s one of the very special things about Benedictine, the herbal liqueur developed purportedly during the Renaissance by the Venetian monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli in the Abbey of Fécamp from 27 plants and spices.

It gained popularity and was produced by the Benedictine monks until the late 18th Century. Historians say the recipe became lost during the upheaval of the French Revolution, then was rediscovered by a Fécamp resident, tucked into a 16th Century manuscript he had purchased.

The formula used today was refined in 1863 by one Alexandre Legrand, whose family eventually sold the Benedictine company to Martini and Rossi, which in turn sold it to Bacardi.

A celebration of the liqueur’s 500th anniversary was held this week at the Hearst Tower in New York City, in partnership with Hearst’s Esquire magazine. Part of the gala was a competition among a group of highly-regarded bartenders to be named the “Alchemist of our Age” by coming up with creative uses for the liqueur.

The winner was Damon Dyer of New York’s Flatiron Lounge and Louis 649. Here’s the recipe:


¾ ounce Benedictine liqueur

½ ounce Yellow Chartreuse

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

¾ ounce Rittenhouse Rye

Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe or small cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Posted on February 4, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  5 comments

Springbank half-bottle may bring bug bucks

A half-bottle of one of the world’s rarest whiskies is expected to bring $6,400 to $9,600 at an upcoming auction in Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s a 1927 Springbank, distilled by J&A Mitchell and Co. in 1900 and drawn in 1927, It will be among 500 bottles to be auctioned off at the McTear’s Winter Rare Whisky Sale.

“You don’t find too many half bottles coming to auction, but it is very rare indeed to find one of this quality,” Andrew Bell, McTear’s whisky specialist, told The Scotsman newspaper. “Springbank is an extremely collectable whisky, and I’m sure there will be a lot of interest in this outstanding example.”

Also being offered at the February 3 event are a 1938 Macallan and a 1964 Bowmore.

Springbank was named “Distiller of the Year” in Whisky Magazine’s “Icons of Whisky 2009.”

Posted on January 30, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  5 comments

The Great Bitters Shortage goes on

It’s not the same as last year’s Knob Creek shortage, when the bourbon distiller reported it was temporarily out of enough aged whiskey to bottle.

In this instance, the folks who make Angostura Bitters apparently have plenty of product, What they don’t have is enough bottles to put it in.

The globally popular cocktail ingredient has been in short supply since the second half of 2009 because of an ongoing dispute between the House of Angostura in Trinidad and Tobago and the company that supplies its bottles. Production was halted in November, although since then a limited number of bottles have been delivered.

Some bars and restaurants have been hoarding their supply until the pipeline reopens. At the moment, the manufacturer is being vague about when that may be.

The House of Angostura has been undergoing a financial restructuring. It is owned by CL Financial, a Caribbean conglomerate that purchased it from Bacardi in 1997. CL is suffering through a liquidity crisis that necessitated an emergency bailout last year by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

Angostura Bitters is the largest bitters seller in the world. Its sales in the U.S. alone are about 750,000 of the four-ounce bottles. The product, made from a proprietary recipe of spices, herbs, roots, barks and rum, was invented in 1824 by German doctor Johann Siegert as a tonic to ease tropical ailments. It was named for the Venezuelan town where he lived at the time.

Posted on January 21, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  2 comments

Haiti quake doesn’t stop rum distiller

My Coral Gables, FL, friend Robert A. Barr, publisher of the Gifted Rum Guide, passes along this information:

“Here’s the news from the Gardere family at Barbancourt in Haiti:

“Our reporter Hank Tester reports from Haiti that Barbancourt has suffered minor damage at their distillery and aging warehouses from the recent earthquake activities.

“There is plenty of aged rum to continue operations, although it’s a struggle for employees who have been adversely affected to come to work.

“The company believes they have enough stock to remain viable for some time while they work hard to get their operations restored to full capacity soon. At the present time, there is plenty of Barbancourt Rhum in the United States and no shortage is anticipated.”

Posted on January 21, 2010 by William M. Dowd  ·  2 comments

A New Year’s Eve cocktail menu

I’m releasing this expanded version of my first monthly “What will they think of next?” feature for 2010 a few days early so you can go through it to select some New Year’s Eve cocktails. For that reason, the offering is double the usual trio of suggestions. They’ve been culled from the monthly recipes shared throughout 2009.

You’ll find instructions for making “Dowd’s Marteani” (green tea, vodka, Galliano and other goodies), “Absolutly Rocking” (the spelling is a nod to its major component), “Triple Orange Margarita” (lots of flavors and fresh citrus), “Fish House Punch” (a rum drink that dates to the early 1700s), “Ward 8” (a Boston version of the whiskey sour) and “The Last Word” (a gin oldie making a comeback).

Just click here for the recipes. And, if you’d like to browse through the “What will they think of next?” archives, click here.

Posted on December 29, 2009 by William M. Dowd  ·  3 comments