2016 Craft Extravaganza – Part I
Hey guys—David OG here. We’ve had a pretty wild month with all sorts of limited stuff coming and going quickly. So much new delicious gin, brandy, Scotch, it just never ends. One category, however, has been starkly missing from our recent new offerings. Craft Whiskey! We’ve spoken here in the past about how we’ve had trouble finding craft Bourbon producers that hit all the notes we need. They can be too brash, too young, or exhibit too much rough oak from smaller barrique aging. Today, however, we’re truly breaking ground for K&L and the spirits category in general. Three new hand-crafted products available exclusively through K&L. The first is simply a triumph in every way.
Tom Herbruck is an unassuming gentleman with a solid career and a beautiful family. He’s also a man with a secret. In the shed behind his house sits hundreds of barrels of whiskey. Tom’s love affair with distillation started early, like before he was fifteen. His father was a doctor and did well and, when Tom was just a boy, his father bought a vineyard outside of Cleveland, OH. Now you cannot make good wine in Ohio. It’s both too hot and too cold. But you can grow grapes and those grapes will become wine with a bit of coaxing. Tom’s father thought it perfectly natural that he be responsible for converting that wine into spirit and Tom enjoyed it too. So basically this guy has been distilling in his back shed for the better part of thirty years. Eventually, Tom had kids and they started to get to that age where Dad’s little hobby was seeming more and more interesting—maybe a few too many questions. Maybe it was time, Tom thought, to go legit. And that’s just what he did. After years of “practicing” on a tiny little Portuguese alembic, Tom got all licensed up and bought a serious piece of equipment.
The Michter’s pot stills were original built in the 1970s as a semi-tourist attraction at the distillery in Schaefferstown, PA. This famous distillery was responsible for the original Michter’s Brand Sour Mash and several other exceptionally well regarded products like the A.H. Hirsch line. After success in the 50s and 60s, tourists had started showing up to see the distillery. Since production only occurred a few days out of the month, they’d often be disappointed to see absolutely nothing happening. A plan was devised to create a one barrel a day still that could be run continuously to provide some sort of experience for those who had made the trip. Known as the Michter’s Jug House, America’s first microdistillery was born. This was the first pot-stilled Bourbon distillery since the end of prohibition. In an era when the industry had completely industrialized and consolidation was rampant, this was a bit of a revolution. The big distillers had converted to stripping/doubler set up that’s common in KY today and the thought of building something less efficient than possible must have been shocking to many. But alas, whiskey would not stay cool nor would it be cool again for nearly three decades. When the distillery closed in 1990, the impressive stills and the corresponding tank/fermenters were sold to none other than David Beam, who stored them at a motel he owned in Bardstown, KY. Tom eventually connected with David and brought the old set up to his newly licensed home distillery. There he experimented with several mash-bills and with the help of industry luminaries like Willie Pratt and Fred Noe. Over the next several years, Tom built stocks of high quality pot stilled bourbon, rye, and apple jack. Last year, the new Michter’s Distillery made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse and the legendary stills were sold and reunited with their original namesake. Tom’s back to distilling on the little pot-still he started on, but he’s recently acquired a 200 year old cognac style alembic in original condition. He’s excited to continue making his whiskey on these new stills and insists that he can get the same quality out of those pot stills as he did with the wonderful Bomberger stills.
When I visited him in early 2016 at his home in Chagrin Falls, he was excited to show me his new product: a bottled in bond Bourbon; perhaps the only pot-stilled bottled in bond Bourbon on the market, craft or not. Pot-stilled Bourbon is just something different. We hear marketing about Woodford and their pot-stills, but honestly they only use a tiny fraction of the pot-stilled whiskey in that blend. In fact, true pot-stilled whiskey is definitely the realm of the craft distiller, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It requires patience and experience and generally the craft world has avoided going straight at Kentucky because it’s just too daunting. Tom doesn’t care. He’s making whiskey expertly and aging it exclusively in traditional 53 gallon new charred oak barrels. Some of his whiskey won’t be ready for years more to come. Others, like this Bourbon are absolutely singing. I was lucky to have made the trek to Chagrin Falls on that cold afternoon in March. We’re in the process of picking single casks and we’ll try to offer the Applejack and standard release Bourbons and rye when they’re available, but right now I’m going out on a limb and saying unequivocally that this is the best craft bourbon you’ll find at any price. And while it’s not cheap by any means, it doesn’t fly in the face of Kentucky’s pricing just because it’s “craft”. Indeed, I believe it’s well work the $50 we’re asking. This small first batch of bottled in bond bourbon was limited to 1200 bottles and we’re the exclusive supplier for the California market, but we’ve only received a fraction of the total offering. So buy it, try it, and load up if you love it.