Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Straight and Strange: Talking Bourbon with Chuck Cowdery

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Chuck Cowdery/Photo: F Minnick

Chuck Cowdery/Photo: F Minnick

By David Hammond

Chuck Cowdery is a world-renowned, Chicago-based whiskey writer and the author of several books, including his recent: “Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey.” He is a Kentucky Colonel and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

We met up with Cowdery last spring in Louisville, where we both attended a series of events related to the Bourbon Classic, a celebration of America’s native spirit. As the snow starts to fly in Chicago, we sought Cowdery’s advice as to what bourbon we should be considering as we nestle into winter.

Let’s say I’m a bourbon beginner. What three bourbons do I really need to have—and why do I need to have them?
Maker’s Mark is a good place to start. The mild, wheated bourbon recipe, which contains no rye, makes this bourbon easy to drink. If you find Maker’s Mark too harsh, you’ll probably never like bourbon. Buffalo Trace is a more traditional rye-recipe bourbon but very well-balanced. If you like both of those, try Bulleit Bourbon. It contains twice as much rye as most rye-recipe bourbons. If you like all three, then you’re ready to try everything else. Read the rest of this entry »

The Few, the Proud: A Distillery Turns Evanston’s Temperance History on its Head

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Paul Hletko

Paul Hletko

By Charlie Puckett

The alley air outside of a whitewashed, re-appropriated chop-shop is swollen with the warm blunt smell of grains and botanicals turned into award-winning gins and whiskeys. Inside, Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller at Few Spirits, boils the waters, more than a thousand casks after his first distillation in 2011, to make some of Chicago’s most notable artisanal spirits.

As a resident of Evanston, once the incubator for America’s infamous Woman’s Christian Temperance movement, Hletko especially understands the high threshold for success a nascent craft distiller faces no matter which city they call home. It’s as if the weather of the temperance movement, decades since past, still alters the national dew point in the way that start-up distilleries are still few in number and face high infant mortality rates. According to a survey conducted by the American Distilling Institute, approximately 208 craft distilleries currently operate nationwide as of mid-2012, a featherweight comparison to the hundreds of thousands of stills operating prior to Prohibition. “The greatest success so far is that we still have our lights on,” Hletko says. “In our business world, the first two years are the toughest, and we just hit our second year.” Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Roots: Angel’s Envy Brings Back Bourbon History

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Lincoln Henderson

“It’s nice being the prettiest girl at the dance,” laughs Wes Henderson. The day is excruciatingly hot, but we’re secreted underground in the new River North speakeasy-style bar and restaurant Untitled—as safe from the heat as we would have been from the cops almost a hundred years ago. Henderson isn’t talking about a new dress, but Angel’s Envy, the craft bourbon he produces with his father, master distiller Lincoln Henderson, and his son Kyle.

“We wanted to do something different,” explains Lincoln. The elder Henderson spent four decades at the distilling giant Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s, among other brands. As Lincoln knows well, the industry standard for bourbon has always held that “a bourbon had to be very robust. When I say robust, that means it had to have a lot of wood in it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Drinking: “Working” the floor at The New York Bar and Wine Show

Brandy/Cognac, News and Dish, Tequila/Mezcal, Tips and Trends, Vodka, Whiskey No Comments »

Photo: Renata Baluk

By Ernest Barteldes

The New York Bar and Wine Show, an annual two-day convention that takes place at Midtown Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, showcases what’s new in the beverage industry, from special registers wirelessly attached to bottles (to better control the drinks sold) to novelties like a Russian roulette-style game wherein a plastic revolver has a chamber that releases a shot of liquor to the lucky ‘winner’—if the ‘loaded’ chamber ends up in his or her hand (think bachelor parties and dorm rooms, if you’re wondering who would do this).

But the greatest attraction is, of course, the booze, and this year’s event had plenty, ranging from new liquor brands, international beers and wines to the latest ideas in mixology presented by different bartenders from all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »