All posts in “Drinks”

The Right Way to Drink Rare Craft Beer at Your Next Bottle Share

Good beer with good friends. That’s the goal of every bottle share, a small gathering to drink rare, unique or hard-to-acquire beers best saved for “that special occasion.” But bad manners and an eagerness to try too much, too quick, can make even the best beer taste off. Which is why we sat down with Benjamin Pratt, cofounder of As Is, one of New York City’s top craft beer bars, who shared his tips for hosting a bottle share, the right way. Here’s everything you need to know before you break out the bottle opener.

Keep the group small.

When coming up with the invite list, keep it under 10 people. “The goal should be a group small enough that the share can actually be conversational and educational,” Pratt says, “not just a free-for-all to try as many beers as possible. Some of the best shares I’ve been to have been with three or four other friends who have great taste and interest in beer.”

Less is more.

Ask every friend that’s attending to bring something, and be clear with the expectations. According to Pratt, two larger format bottles per person is the standard rule of thumb. “When we’ve had shares at the bar and people have shown up with too much beer, there is a superficial pressure to blow through bottles and not actually be able to appreciate the beers,” he says.

From Left to Right: Allagash Brewing Company Nancy, Grimm Ales Camoufleur, New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve PX, Backacre Sour Golden Ale, American Solera House Couture, Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio, Oxbow Brewing Co. First Fruits, Fermentery Form Fooz, Grimm Ales Eternal Now and Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio.

People want grails, not fails.

Part of the ethos of a bottle share is to share rare beer, so don’t just go down to your grocery store and buy whatever you can find on the shelf last-minute. Pratt says, “Bring bottles that you’ve either been holding onto for a special occasion or that are not normally available wherever you are.”

It’s not a bad idea to set a theme like, say, focusing on specific styles that age well — sours and dark beer. “The point is for people to be able to try something they have never heard of or have always wanted to try,” Pratt says.

Go slow. Stop early.

If each person brings two larger bottles, that means there are two larger bottles per person to drink. You shouldn’t feel pressured to finish everything or open every single bottle. “In my experience, these things are extended drinking sessions that usually result in a slow, creeping drunkenness,” Pratt says. “It’s good to keep in mind that you don’t have to drink every ounce of everything.” If someone doesn’t love a beer, it’s totally acceptable for them to take a few sips and move on — as a host, make sure they know that.

Sequence matters.

If you’re not armed with the knowledge, designate someone to facilitate the order things are being opened. “This way things can be tasted in series and comparisons can be drawn and maybe something can even be learned,” Pratt says. It also helps avoid multiple bottles being opened all at once. Just remember: never open someone’s bottle without their permission. How would you feel?

So does the glass.

Not everyone has two dozen tulip sampler glasses just sitting around for bottle shares, nor is it feasible in terms of storage if you’re a city-dweller in a small apartment. That being said, using full-size pint glasses is far from ideal, as everyone won’t be getting full pours and shaker pints are not “going to heighten your sensitivity to what is put in front of you,” Pratt says. If you don’t want to invest in reusable tasters, Tossware offers plastic cups used by top-notch festivals that won’t affect the taste or aroma of beer.

Food and water are musts.

Just like any other party, you want to give people food options and the ability to hydrate. As Pratt says, “Eat food, drink water, be an adult.” Just make sure whatever food you’re providing isn’t going to take away from everyone’s ability to taste the beers. Items like cheeses, bread, chips, pretzels and meats are all good middle-of-the-road choices.

The Right Way to Drink Rare Beer at Your Next Bottle Share

Good beer with good friends. That’s the goal of every bottle share, a small gathering to drink rare, unique or hard-to-acquire beers best saved for “that special occasion.” But bad manners and an eagerness to try too much, too quick, can make even the best beer taste off. Which is why we sat down with Benjamin Pratt, cofounder of As Is, one of New York City’s top craft beer bars, who shared his tips for hosting a bottle share, the right way. Here’s everything you need to know before you break out the bottle opener.

Keep the group small.

When coming up with the invite list, keep it under 10 people. “The goal should be a group small enough that the share can actually be conversational and educational,” Pratt says, “not just a free-for-all to try as many beers as possible. Some of the best shares I’ve been to have been with three or four other friends who have great taste and interest in beer.”

Less is more.

Ask every friend that’s attending to bring something, and be clear with the expectations. According to Pratt, two larger format bottles per person is the standard rule of thumb. “When we’ve had shares at the bar and people have shown up with too much beer, there is a superficial pressure to blow through bottles and not actually be able to appreciate the beers,” he says.

From Left to Right: Allagash Brewing Company Nancy, Grimm Ales Camoufleur, New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve PX, Backacre Sour Golden Ale, American Solera House Couture, Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio, Oxbow Brewing Co. First Fruits, Fermentery Form Fooz, Grimm Ales Eternal Now and Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio.

People want grails, not fails.

Part of the ethos of a bottle share is to share rare beer, so don’t just go down to your grocery store and buy whatever you can find on the shelf last-minute. Pratt says, “Bring bottles that you’ve either been holding onto for a special occasion or that are not normally available wherever you are.”

It’s not a bad idea to set a theme like, say, focusing on specific styles that age well — sours and dark beer. “The point is for people to be able to try something they have never heard of or have always wanted to try,” Pratt says.

Go slow. Stop early.

If each person brings two larger bottles, that means there are two larger bottles per person to drink. You shouldn’t feel pressured to finish everything or open every single bottle. “In my experience, these things are extended drinking sessions that usually result in a slow, creeping drunkenness,” Pratt says. “It’s good to keep in mind that you don’t have to drink every ounce of everything.” If someone doesn’t love a beer, it’s totally acceptable for them to take a few sips and move on — as a host, make sure they know that.

Sequence matters.

If you’re not armed with the knowledge, designate someone to facilitate the order things are being opened. “This way things can be tasted in series and comparisons can be drawn and maybe something can even be learned,” Pratt says. It also helps avoid multiple bottles being opened all at once. Just remember: never open someone’s bottle without their permission. How would you feel?

So does the glass.

Not everyone has two dozen tulip sampler glasses just sitting around for bottle shares, nor is it feasible in terms of storage if you’re a city-dweller in a small apartment. That being said, using full-size pint glasses is far from ideal, as everyone won’t be getting full pours and shaker pints are not “going to heighten your sensitivity to what is put in front of you,” Pratt says. If you don’t want to invest in reusable tasters, Tossware offers plastic cups used by top-notch festivals that won’t affect the taste or aroma of beer.

Food and water are musts.

Just like any other party, you want to give people food options and the ability to hydrate. As Pratt says, “Eat food, drink water, be an adult.” Just make sure whatever food you’re providing isn’t going to take away from everyone’s ability to taste the beers. Items like cheeses, bread, chips, pretzels and meats are all good middle-of-the-road choices.

It’s Time You Learned How to Make an Old Fashioned

Few recipes in the cocktail kingdom are as divisive as the Old Fashioned. Originating in the early 1800s, two centuries of experimentation have bred variations that include everything from burnt sugar to agave spirits. Among bartenders, common points of contention include the type of whiskey — bourbon or rye — the addition of club soda, or the presence of a cherry.

You could, of course, simply listen to Kai Parrott-Wolfe, a Brooklyn bartender who ran the menu at beloved Brooklyn bar Post Office: rye whiskey (he recommends Old Overholdt), no soda and no cherry. “There’s very little in this version of the drink that isn’t booze so you hardly ever get to a point where it becomes a watered-down cocktail,” he says. “Unless you’re simply not drinking it.” As a general rule, keep it simple, like the drink itself.

The Old Fashioned

Makes one cocktail

Ingredients
1 Demerara sugar cube
2 ounces of rye whiskey
Angostura bitters
Regan’s orange bitters
Lemon peel
Orange peel
Ice

Preparation:
1. Put 1 Demerara sugar cube in a rocks glass, add 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters and 2 dashes of orange bitters. Muddle in the glass until the sugar has broken down to fine grains.

2. Add 2 ounces of a rye whiskey.

3. Stir without ice, then add your ice and stir again until glass is frosty, usually 20-30 seconds.

4. Cut the peel of both an orange and a lemon and squeeze them over the top of your cocktail. This releases the oils into your drink without overdoing it.

5. Garnish with orange peel.

Every Tool You Need to Outfit Your Home Bar

bar-tools-gear-patrol-feature

The difference between a cocktail and a great cocktail lies in the details, the little tweaks only possible with the right tools. Read the Story

We Asked a Beer Expert How to Host a Bottle Share, the Right Way

Good beer with good friends. That’s the goal of every bottle share, a small gathering to drink rare, unique or hard-to-acquire beers best saved for “that special occasion.” But bad manners and an eagerness to try too much, too quick, can make even the best beer taste off. Which is why we sat down with Benjamin Pratt, cofounder of As Is, one of New York City’s top craft beer bars, who shared his tips for hosting a bottle share, the right way. Here’s everything you need to know before you break out the bottle opener.

Keep the group small.

When coming up with the invite list, keep it under 10 people. “The goal should be a group small enough that the share can actually be conversational and educational,” Pratt says, “not just a free-for-all to try as many beers as possible. Some of the best shares I’ve been to have been with three or four other friends who have great taste and interest in beer.”

Less is more.

Ask every friend that’s attending to bring something, and be clear with the expectations. According to Pratt, two larger format bottles per person is the standard rule of thumb. “When we’ve had shares at the bar and people have shown up with too much beer, there is a superficial pressure to blow through bottles and not actually be able to appreciate the beers,” he says.

From Left to Right: Allagash Brewing Company Nancy, Grimm Ales Camoufleur, New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve PX, Backacre Sour Golden Ale, American Solera House Couture, Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio, Oxbow Brewing Co. First Fruits, Fermentery Form Fooz, Grimm Ales Eternal Now and Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio.

People want grails, not fails.

Part of the ethos of a bottle share is to share rare beer, so don’t just go down to your grocery store and buy whatever you can find on the shelf last-minute. Pratt says, “Bring bottles that you’ve either been holding onto for a special occasion or that are not normally available wherever you are.”

It’s not a bad idea to set a theme like, say, focusing on specific styles that age well — sours and dark beer. “The point is for people to be able to try something they have never heard of or have always wanted to try,” Pratt says.

Go slow. Stop early.

If each person brings two larger bottles, that means there are two larger bottles per person to drink. You shouldn’t feel pressured to finish everything or open every single bottle. “In my experience, these things are extended drinking sessions that usually result in a slow, creeping drunkenness,” Pratt says. “It’s good to keep in mind that you don’t have to drink every ounce of everything.” If someone doesn’t love a beer, it’s totally acceptable for them to take a few sips and move on — as a host, make sure they know that.

Sequence matters.

If you’re not armed with the knowledge, designate someone to facilitate the order things are being opened. “This way things can be tasted in series and comparisons can be drawn and maybe something can even be learned,” Pratt says. It also helps avoid multiple bottles being opened all at once. Just remember: never open someone’s bottle without their permission. How would you feel?

So does the glass.

Not everyone has two dozen tulip sampler glasses just sitting around for bottle shares, nor is it feasible in terms of storage if you’re a city-dweller in a small apartment. That being said, using full-size pint glasses is far from ideal, as everyone won’t be getting full pours and shaker pints are not “going to heighten your sensitivity to what is put in front of you,” Pratt says. If you don’t want to invest in reusable tasters, Tossware offers plastic cups used by top-notch festivals that won’t affect the taste or aroma of beer.

Food and water are musts.

Just like any other party, you want to give people food options and the ability to hydrate. As Pratt says, “Eat food, drink water, be an adult.” Just make sure whatever food you’re providing isn’t going to take away from everyone’s ability to taste the beers. Items like cheeses, bread, chips, pretzels and meats are all good middle-of-the-road choices.

The Best Things We Drank Last Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Allagash Two Lights

While Allagash is not the first to use sauvignon blanc must (the freshly pressed juice of the grapes) in a beer, they’ve come close to perfecting it with Two Lights. The Maine brewery didn’t stop there — the beer is fermented with both lager and champagne yeast, resulting in a light, bubbly, tart, dry, and fruity (tropical, pear and grape) flavor. At 6.7 percent ABV, it’s unlike anything we’ve tasted. Drink on a warm summer day (or night) by the water.

Wild Turkey Cornerstone Rye

Released annualy, Master’s Keep is Wild Turkey’s highest-end release. Cornerstone Rye is the first rye in the Master’s Keep collection and the most mature rye whiskey Wild Turkey has ever released (a mix of barrels aged 9 to 11 years). It’s exceptional with an ice cube or two, but those who drink it neat will be rewarded. Where younger ryes present pepper and spice on the nose and palate, Cornerstone offers dark fruit, honey and a little chocolate. The classic rye spiciness isn’t felt until the finish, which is as long as any rye out there. That being said, the $175 price tag isn’t so nice. Available August, buy this as a gift to someone who knows whiskey.

TRVE Brewing Company Cold

Another previously-released beer getting the can treatment for the first time. This Kellerpils-Style is not your typical lager: it blends 100 percent Colorado malt with 100 percent Czech Saaz hops and Czech lager yeast. The result is a light golden color, pillowy soft mouthfeel and a hint of sweetness that cuts through the pilsner spice. In other words, it is extremely crushable (4.9 percent ABV doesn’t hurt, either). It’s a great alternative to the macro lagers of the world.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

5 Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Only Find Overseas

Before its native whisky became the style du jour across the globe, Japan’s greatest contribution to whiskey culture (or American whiskey culture, at least) was more fundamental. In the 1970s and 1980s, American whiskey was down for the count, beaten out by vodka, rum and gin. There was just no thirst for premium bourbons — except in Japan.

Raised on lofty age statement scotch whisky, Japanese drinkers wanted the old American bourbon America didn’t. The result was a flood of new bourbons that only ever saw the light of day in Japan. And despite the return of bourbon’s popularity in the land of its provenance, Japan continues to receive exclusive gems from some of America’s most notable producers. From Four Roses to Wild Turkey, here are the bourbons to hunt down on your next (or first) trip overseas.

Four Roses Super Premium

Four Roses’s history is inextricably tied to Japan. To survive American whiskey’s down years, the company shifted its gaze to more fruitful Asian and European markets — as proof, its straight bourbon didn’t return to the U.S. until 2002.

Vestiges of its overseas empire can be found on the back shelves of dusty liquor stores across Asia, but the company’s Super Premium bottling is its most readily available product there. Sometimes called Four Roses Platinum, it’s in almost every liquor and grocery store in Japan for the equivalent of $50 USD. Think of it as a fruitier, slightly more-mature version of Four Roses Small Batch.

Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel

Americans accustomed to liquor stores being sold out of Blanton’s 93 proof, high-rye single barrel bourbon might consider a trip to Japan. The country is one of few regularly stocked with Blanton’s Green label, Gold label and Straight from the Barrel, the only barrel-proof Blanton’s out there. Bottled at a heavy 130 proof, it’s Blanton’s with a pedal to the metal. Hot tip for those who can’t track it down: check the liquor store in the basement of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. You’ll find it for $85 to $100 USD.

Wild Turkey 13-Year Distiller’s Reserve

Japan-exclusive bourbon aficionados will likely shudder at this recommendation, but not because it’s bad. Until recent years, everyone’s favorite 101 proof bourbon was available in Japan at a more mature 12-year age statement. That bottle was discontinued. What we’re left with is an older, slightly lower proof whiskey that lacks the sucker punch of 101 but is markedly more drinkable.

Evan Williams Red

You can find Evan Williams 12-year-old bourbon at the distillery’s Louisville gift shop but it’ll run you nearly $200. In Japan, it’s available in most stores for under $30. Other than the infamous 23-year-old offering, Red Label is the most mature Evan Williams out there. In the glass it’s a richer, better Evan Williams Black. What’s not to like?

Ancient Ancient Age 8-Year

Yes, you read ancient twice. This is a deep-cut bourbon, distilled using Buffalo Trace Distillery’s high-rye Mashbill #2 (same as Blanton’s). Ancient has run through a number of owners but has always been distilled by Buffalo Trace. For those curious about the quality: it’s fine, but its connection to Buffalo Trace makes the $15 to $20 pickup no-brainer.

Other Notable Whiskeys to Pick Up Abroad

Blanton’s Gold: When it comes to proof, Gold sits between standard Blanton’s and Straight from the Barrel. Like the barrel-proof option, it’s harder to find outside of urban areas. Expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $90 for it.

Four Roses Black Label: Not much is known about Four Roses Black other than the fact that it’s dirt cheap and mixes into a punch really, really nicely. It’s everywhere Super Premium is, but it usually goes for about $20.

Wild Turkey 12-Year: It’s discontinued, but it’s what whiskey nerds would be looking for. Look for it in stores off the beaten path. (Rest assured, every store in Tokyo has been picked over by hunters well before you arrive.)

I.W. Harper 12-Year: Some will call I.W. Harper a hype play, but the slightly mysterious 12-year-old bourbon (no one knows for sure who made it) isn’t too expensive and looks great in a liquor cabinet. And if you believe the rumors that it was distilled by Four Roses, it’s a perfect holiday gift with some backstory.

Evan Williams 23-Year: Another famous discontinued offering. Most reviews indicate Evan Williams 23-year is painfully oaky, suggesting it’s perhaps too old. That’s no matter. If you find it, buy it. Bottles of it go on the secondary market for $500 and up and it’s not any cheaper at the Evan Williams gift shop — when it’s even available.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

You Need a Passport to Buy These American Bourbon Whiskeys

Before its native whisky became the style du jour across the globe, Japan’s greatest contribution to whiskey culture (or American whiskey culture, at least) was more fundamental. In the 1970s and 1980s, American whiskey was down for the count, beaten out by vodka, rum and gin. There was just no thirst for premium bourbons — except in Japan.

Raised on lofty age statement scotch whisky, Japanese drinkers wanted the old American bourbon America didn’t. The result was a flood of new bourbons that only ever saw the light of day in Japan. And despite the return of bourbon’s popularity in the land of its provenance, Japan continues to receive exclusive gems from some of America’s most notable producers. From Four Roses to Wild Turkey, here are the bourbons to hunt down on your next (or first) trip overseas.

Four Roses Super Premium

Four Roses’s history is inextricably tied to Japan. To survive American whiskey’s down years, the company shifted its gaze to more fruitful Asian and European markets — as proof, its straight bourbon didn’t return to the U.S. until 2002.

Vestiges of its overseas empire can be found on the back shelves of dusty liquor stores across Asia, but the company’s Super Premium bottling is its most readily available product there. Sometimes called Four Roses Platinum, it’s in almost every liquor and grocery store in Japan for the equivalent of $50 USD. Think of it as a fruitier, slightly more-mature version of Four Roses Small Batch.

Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel

Americans accustomed to liquor stores being sold out of Blanton’s 93 proof, high-rye single barrel bourbon might consider a trip to Japan. The country is one of few regularly stocked with Blanton’s Green label, Gold label and Straight from the Barrel, the only barrel-proof Blanton’s out there. Bottled at a heavy 130 proof, it’s Blanton’s with a pedal to the metal. Hot tip for those who can’t track it down: check the liquor store in the basement of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. You’ll find it for $85 to $100 USD.

Wild Turkey 13-Year Distiller’s Reserve

Japan-exclusive bourbon aficionados will likely shudder at this recommendation, but not because it’s bad. Until recent years, everyone’s favorite 101 proof bourbon was available in Japan at a more mature 12-year age statement. That bottle was discontinued. What we’re left with is an older, slightly lower proof whiskey that lacks the sucker punch of 101 but is markedly more drinkable.

Evan Williams Red

You can find Evan Williams 12-year-old bourbon at the distillery’s Louisville gift shop but it’ll run you nearly $200. In Japan, it’s available in most stores for under $30. Other than the infamous 23-year-old offering, Red Label is the most mature Evan Williams out there. In the glass it’s a richer, better Evan Williams Black. What’s not to like?

Ancient Ancient Age 8-Year

Yes, you read ancient twice. This is a deep-cut bourbon, distilled using Buffalo Trace Distillery’s high-rye Mashbill #2 (same as Blanton’s). Ancient has run through a number of owners but has always been distilled by Buffalo Trace. For those curious about the quality: it’s fine, but its connection to Buffalo Trace makes the $15 to $20 pickup no-brainer.

Other Notable Whiskeys to Pick Up Abroad

Blanton’s Gold: When it comes to proof, Gold sits between standard Blanton’s and Straight from the Barrel. Like the barrel-proof option, it’s harder to find outside of urban areas. Expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $90 for it.

Four Roses Black Label: Not much is known about Four Roses Black other than the fact that it’s dirt cheap and mixes into a punch really, really nicely. It’s everywhere Super Premium is, but it usually goes for about $20.

Wild Turkey 12-Year: It’s discontinued, but it’s what whiskey nerds would be looking for. Look for it in stores off the beaten path. (Rest assured, every store in Tokyo has been picked over by hunters well before you arrive.)

I.W. Harper 12-Year: Some will call I.W. Harper a hype play, but the slightly mysterious 12-year-old bourbon (no one knows for sure who made it) isn’t too expensive and looks great in a liquor cabinet. And if you believe the rumors that it was distilled by Four Roses, it’s a perfect holiday gift with some backstory.

Evan Williams 23-Year: Another famous discontinued offering. Most reviews indicate Evan Williams 23-year is painfully oaky, suggesting it’s perhaps too old. That’s no matter. If you find it, buy it. Bottles of it go on the secondary market for $500 and up and it’s not any cheaper at the Evan Williams gift shop — when it’s even available.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

A Company You’ve Never Heard of Is Bottling Some of the Oldest Whiskeys in the World

Whiskeys bearing age statements may be rarer than ever but that hasn’t stopped the Orphan Barrel Project from filling bottles with 15-, 20- and 25-year-old booze. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the fact that it doesn’t make the whiskey. It finds it.

Orphan Barrel’s whiskey comes from barrels produced at now-defunct distilleries that were lost or forgotten, with bottles rolling out under one of its many sub-brands. The whiskey was either aged in or distilled by legendary distilleries like Stitzel-Weller, Old Bernheim and George T. Stagg (pre-Buffalo Trace acquisition, at that). Its next bottle doesn’t come from anywhere nearly as famous, but it could be worth even more.

The first Scotch whisky under the brand’s umbrella, Forager’s Keep, isn’t sourced from a storied, old distillery every whiskey geek knows about. It’s 26-year-old juice from a short-lived Speyside Scotchmaker called Pittyvaich that started in 1974 and closed in 1993.

The spirit inside Forager’s Keep is the oldest stuff the young distillery ever got around to making. The distillery’s short life and the whisky’s lofty age statement mean this deadstock Scotch is imbued with sky-high secondary market price potential, even if no one really knows anything about it. It’s set to release at $400 sometime this summer.

10 Modern American Whiskey Brands Everyone Should Know

Dominated almost entirely by mega-distillers like Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey and Heaven Hill, the American whiskey landscape is oligarchical and old. The reason for this is straightforward: making good whiskey requires extraordinary initial capital, and the capacity to bleed money close to a decade. This has led many of America’s next-gen distillers down a dark path, relying almost exclusively on buying stocks of whiskey from other makers and passing it off as their own. Five-year-old distilleries selling 10-year-old bourbon without any mention of where the whiskey might have been made.

Beyond transparency concerns, reliance on bought-stock spawns issues of its own. Newer distillers leaning on the work of other whiskey makers means less craft, less innovation and more stagnation in a slow-moving industry. If the smaller, less bureaucratic producers aren’t free to experiment and explore new corners of whiskey, we leave that task to colossal macro-distillers. In this way, craft whiskey is related to craft beer in name alone.

But there are new American whiskey brands trying, in earnest, to change that perception. Craftspeople pushing for a more creative, more clear and more diverse whiskey shelf. From rye blenders to hype peddlers, these are ten of the brands leading whiskey’s next act.

Balcones

Headquarters: Waco, Texas
Bottle to Try: Balcones Baby Blue

Balcones’ guiding principle was established early on — make it different and make it Texas. Original founder Chip Tate built his own stills, his own barrels and opted to buy Texas-grown blue corn instead of the more economical commodity grain. In other words, it was as Texan as possible, and people loved it. Baby Blue, the first release, earned a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the word was out — a craft distiller was making great whiskey unlike anything else being made. With an ongoing series of limited releases and slightly-off-kilter signature whiskey lineup (including an American single malt and a 100 percent blue corn whiskey), Balcones has continued being its weird self since.

New Riff

Founded: 2014
Headquarters: Newport, Kentucky
Bottle to Try: New Riff Rye

New Riff looks a lot different than most on this list. It’s not centuries old, it’s not owned by a larger parent company and none of its three whiskeys are more than 5 years old. But New Riff isn’t troubled by a lack of history — it’s the whiskey geek’s dream whiskey brand.

All its whiskeys now and forever will be at least 100 proof, totally unfiltered and come labeled with all the facts and figures one could want (mashbill percentages info and clear age statements included). It’s a bold step for a distillery self-described as a “mid-major” — not craft status, but certainly not a macro-distillery. It’s paying off thus far, though. Along with the adoration of the online whiskey community, New Riff took home its first serious silverware at 2019’s San Francisco Spirits Competition — Double Golds (the highest rating possible) for all three of its whiskeys.

High West

Headquarters: Wanship, Utah
Bottle to Try: High West Double Rye!

Craft whiskey is looked down upon in the whiskey world. It takes years to build a solid stock of well-aged whiskeys to use, and because most can’t suffer through heavy cash loss for that long, they ratchet prices up for ho-hum whiskey. High West embodies what it is to make craft whiskey not by trying to compete with centuries-old liquor empires, but by its own weirdness. Using a mix of its own pot-stilled whiskey and old-as-hell stock bought from older distilleries, founder David Perkins (a former biochemist) does his thing. Whether it’s a blend of 2- and 16-year-old whiskeys or corraling bourbon, rye and peated scotch into a single bottle, High West is willing to do anything but bore you.

WhistlePig

Headquarters: Shoreham, Vermont
Bottle to Try: WhistlePig 10-year Straight Rye

In ten years time, rye whiskey sales have risen a batshit insane 1,100 percent increase. Eleven-hundred. Vermont-based WhistlePig is a posterchild for the spike. Led by former Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, WhistlePig got its start purchasing a lot of 10-year-old Canadian rye whiskey and selling it to the US market. This would be seen as a cashgrab if people didn’t love it. Pickerell and team remain commited to acquiring and distilling rye and only rye, and using their Vermont base to their advantage. The distillery’s Farmstock series combines grains grown on the farm with water from the area and ages the distilled result in Vermont white oak grown on the WhistlePig farm.

Barrel Bourbon

Headquarters: Louisville, Kentucky
Bottle to Try: Barrel Bourbon Batch 011

Whiskey brands that don’t make their own whiskeys, called non-distiller producers (NDP), aren’t always looked up favorably by the whiskey world. Barrel is an exception. Though it did begin putting down barrels of its own stuff in the last couple years, Barrel’s bread and butter is acquiring and blending other distiller’s forlorn barrels and turning them into something exceptional. And unlike other NDPs, Barrel makes clear that the juice blended inside its bottles is not of their creation — full sourcing info, including mashbill, age and state of distillation, is available for every bottle. And unlike the majority of major distillers today, Barrel could give a damn about consistency. Every batch (all barrel proof) released is intentionally different than the last; meant to explore a different flavor profile or a different age combination.

Willet

Headquarters: Bardstown, Kentucky
Bottle to Try: Willet Family Estate Bottled Rye

Many see the revival of historic distilleries as cash grabs, and, based on the cash some of Willet’s releases go for, one might classify it as such. But that’s plain shortsighted, and the Kulsveen family are anything but shortsighted. Willet got its start in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the Willet family sold the farm to the Kulsveen family that modern Willet began to take shape. The Kulsveens began buying up old stock from distillers looking to get rid of barrels they didn’t think they could sell (the ’80s were not a good time for whiskey), and years later, once whiskey had made its comeback, they started selling it. Since then, it’s become the only American whiskey label to surpass Pappy in price and collectability.

Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen heads up the company’s own whiskey making program. Even though its oldest release to date is a 4-year-old rye, it’s already garnering praise from drinkers.

Old Elk

Headquarters: Colorado
Bottle to Try: Old Elk Blended Bourbon

In his last job as Master Distiller of MGP, Greg Metze created the über-high rye mashbill that took the whiskey world by storm (you know, the one Bulleit, Angel’s Envy, Redemption, Smooth Ambler and more rode to success). Funded by the guy behind Otterbox, Metze’s new project takes aim at another enormously profitable sector of the whiskey market: ultra-smooth, inoffensive beginner bourbons. Based in Colorado, Old Elk may not have a distillery yet (a rather large one wraps construction later this year), but its ambitions are to become the Basil Hayden’s of bourbon’s next act. Get used to looking at the Old Elk label; in a few years time, you’ll be seeing it everywhere.

Kentucky Owl

Headquarters: Bardstown, Kentucky
Bottle to Try: Kentucky Owl Confiscated

Whiskey enthusiasts don’t really like Kentucky Owl, but that may not matter. Kentucky Owl had long been dead before part-blender, part-marketer Dixon Dedman got his hands on it and Dedman, whose great-great-grandfather had founded the distillery, started by buying up choice barrels from distillers around the region, blending them and selling them only in Kentucky at a super-super-premium $170 pricetag. Word got out about it, bottles sold out quickly, and Kentucky Owl achieved cult status in a matter of months (bottles were re-selling for ten-times the retail price within the year). The whiskey nerd among your friend group will protest: Kentucky Owl doesn’t disclose where they get the whiskey from, how old it is or really anything else about what is inside its high-priced bottles. But with the 2019 release of Confiscated (a blend of 6-, 9-, 10- and 12-year-old bourbons) and a $150 million distillery being built, the Owl isn’t going anywhere.

Westland

Headquarters: Seattle, Washington
Bottle to Try: Westland American Single Malt American Oak

If one famed whiskey-producing nation can have a single malt all to itself, why can’t another? That’s the principle behind Westland and a swell of other American craft whiskey producers. Westland’s take on the category — which still lacks a formal, legal definition — views single malt quite literally. Its mashbill is 100 percent malted barley, the only other ingredients being water, yeast and the barrel it ages in. If you’re looking for what’s next in American whiskey, it’s the American single malt.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 10 Best Festivals Every Beer Lover Needs on Their Bucket List

If it’s rare beer you’re after, the local watering hole will only get you so far. For the ultimate beer-tasting experience, you’ll need to hit one of the country’s many beer festivals, where attendees have the chance to taste rare beers from heavy hitters and hyped breweries. These one-stop-shops let craft beer nerds and casual drinkers try exclusive brews while chatting with the brewers who made them.

Of course, not all beer festivals are created equal. So what makes a festival worth attending? The rarity of the beers being poured, the quality of the breweries attending (invitationals tend to be more selective) and the ticket price. Still don’t know where to start? We’ve done the hard research and put together the following list of the best beer fests in America.

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

Location: Paso Robles, CA
Dates: June 1
Notable Breweries: Garage Project, Jester King Brewery, The Bruery, Side Project Brewing, Burial Beer Co.
Ticket Prices: $90+

Widely regarded as the top beer festival in America, Firestone Walker Invitational brings together more than 50 of the world’s most hyped and in-demand brewers, who all bring their A-games (read: best beers) to this annual fest in California. Beyond the beer, food trucks abound and grub comes with the price of a ticket — assuming you can grab one before they sell out after going on sale every February.

Other Half Pastry Town/Green City

Brooklyn’s Other Half has made a name for itself with New England-style IPAs and imperial stouts, and it has capitalized on its successes by framing two invitational beer fests — one in February and the other in June — around those styles. Oh, there’s amateur wrestling, too. It doesn’t get much more Brooklyn than that.

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Dates: February / June
Notable Breweries: Grimm Artisanal Ales, WeldWerks Brewing, The Alchemist, Hudson Valley Brewery, Tired Hands Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: $100+

Great American Beer Festival

Location: Denver, CO
Dates: October 3-6
Notable Breweries: Revolution Brewing, Allagash Brewing Co, The Veil, Societe Brewing Company, Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $85+

For a long time, the Great American Beer Festival (founded in 1982) was the paragon beer fest in the U.S. Part competition, part public tasting event, it is a unique combination of breweries vying for coveted GABF medals in over 100 beer styles — it’s the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States. You have to be smart and selective about the beers you go after, but there are not many other festivals where a ticket gets you the ability to sample over 4,000 beers. If you’re looking for the biggest “scene” event in craft brewing, the Brewer’s Association GABF is still it.

Extreme Beer Fest

Location: Boston, MA
Dates: February 1-2
Notable Breweries: Dogfish Head, Highland Park Brewery, Lamplighter Brewery, Monday Night Brewing, The Rare Barrel
Ticket Prices: $65+

Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest has been going for 16 years. Pulling in over 130 breweries in 2019, it celebrates brewers who push the boundaries and spur creativity — no wonder Dogfish Head, led by James Beard Award winner Sam Caligione, is the lead sponsor. Brewers are encouraged to bring their best brews, especially those that are sessionable. When tasting lots of beers, less can sometimes be more.

Hop Culture Juicy Brews Craft Beer Festival

Location: All over the U.S.
Dates: Usually once a month
Notable Breweries: Bissell Brothers, Mast Landing Brewing Company, Foam Brewers, Half Acre Beer Company, Bearded Iris Brewing
Ticket Prices: $60+

Hop Culture has turned the craft beer phenomenon of the New England IPA into a (mostly) monthly beer fest. Usually hosted with a brewery in whichever city it takes place, Juicy Brews has invigorated the beer fest scene and helped the craft beer world overcome festival fatigue syndrome. Collaboration is the name of the game for Juicy Brews, and most of the breweries that attend brew a beer specifically for the event that’s only available there or in their taprooms.

Oregon Brewers Festival

Location: Portland, OR
Dates: July 24-27
Notable Breweries: Boneyard Beer, Fort George Brewery, Sunriver Brewing Co., Friem Family Brewers, Gigantic Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: Free to enter, $20 for a mug and 10 beer tokens

This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival will, for the first time since it was founded in 1988, exclusively feature Oregon craft beers and ciders. Good thing Oregon has one of the best beer scenes in the country. There’s also no admission charge, meaning you’re not riddled with the feeling of having to get your money’s worth. While it’s not necessarily a beer fest to seek out those rare white whales, it is one that typically offers nice summertime vibes in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.

Hill Farmstead’s Festival of Farmhouse Ales

Location: Greensboro Bend, VT
Dates: August 3
Notable Breweries: Brasserie de Blaugies, The Lost Abbey Brewing Company, Russian River Brewing, Shelton Brothers Imports (Drie Fonteinen)
Ticket Prices: $100+

Leave it to the adored Hill Farmstead to concept a beer festival that’s entirely unique to them. What started as a weekend shared with brewer friends in 2006 has morphed into a bucket-list beer festival for beer fans from the world over. Even more extradonary is that it showcases one style of beer: the farmhouse ale. The ticket package includes a tasting glass, beer samples, designated driver entry and live music — food is on-site for purchase. This year’s FoFA features beer from only five breweries (including Hill Farmstead), and they’re all bangers.

Great Taste of the Midwest

Location: Madison, WI
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Bell’s Brewery, Rhinegeist Brewery, Mikerphone Brewing, Founders Brewing Co., Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $60

The Midwest is full of craft beer stalwarts and up-and-coming breweries. The Great Taste of the Midwest brings them all to one place. Over 190 breweries descend upon Olin Park overlooking Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, to give drinkers the chance to sample beers from breweries that are spread out across the Plains. This beer fest will operate its 33rd edition in 2019 and the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild does a superb job of making sure attendees won’t have to stand in long lines all day by limiting the number of tickets to the event.

Modern Times’s Festival of Dankness

Location: San Diego, CA
Dates: August – TBD
Notable Breweries: Modern Times Beer, Bottle Logic Brewing, Brouwerij West, Trve Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $50+

San Diego is a craft beer mecca, with Modern Times Beer at the forefront. The brewery’s Festival of Dankness is a one-day tribute to hops, and the list of brewers that attend is on-par with just about any other beer fest in the U.S. There is something to be said for leaning into the most popular beer style and creating an epic festival around it in one of the most beer-centric cities in the United States.

Trillium Field Trip

Location: Canton, MA
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Trillium Brewing Company, Evil Twin Brewing, Great Notion Brewery, Monkish Brewing Co., J. Wakefield Brewing
Ticket Prices: $50+

Some beer fests are all about quantity and variety. Trillium’s Field Trip isn’t one of them. Only 1,200 general admission tickets and 300 VIP tickets are up for grabs this year. This two-session event offers a carefully curated lineup of beers and breweries. Founded in 2018, Field Trip has already made a name for itself thanks to Trillium’s collaborative nature.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

6 Rice Whiskeys — Yes, Rice Whiskey — to Try Now

Rice whiskey might sound like something entirely new. And it is … sort of. But let us start with the part that’s not.

Various Asian cultures have been using rice and its mold (the Japanese call it koji) to make distilled spirits called shochu, soju, baijiu and ruou gao for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years. Whatever you want to call it — “rice wine” or “white liquor” — it’s used a ton, for medicinal purposes, to honor ancestors or just to get lit. Baijiu, much of which is made with rice, is the best selling liquor in the world; in 2016, more bottles of the stuff were sold than vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and tequila combined.

Whiskey is a grain-based spirit aged in wood barrels, and rice, of course, is a grain. So, throw one of those rice spirits in charred oak and you have rice whiskey. Skeptics could say the pairing of rice spirits and oak barrels is a great way to put the magic “w” word on a bottle. But this new class of spirits speaks for itself. Plus, the path to making this sort of drink often involves an epic journey between Asia and America, intentional or otherwise.

At Vinn Distillery, two generations and a history of diaspora conspired to make whiskey using rice. Phan Ly and his wife, Kim Trinh, were moved by war, work and hope from North Vietnam to China to Hong Kong, and eventually, to Oregon. After Ly retired, he decided he wanted to put his homemade rice spirits on the liquor store shelf and started Vinn Distillery. And then there was the luck side of it. “My sister was at a garage sale and bought a few gallon-sized oak barrels to age baijiu in,” says one of his daughters, Michelle, who helps with the business. “A year later we were tasting it at the distillery. It was amber-colored, and it was delicious, and we realized it was a whiskey.”

At Moto Whiskey in Brooklyn, it was travel, and a dispute between palates, that gave rise to its rice whiskey. Cofounder Marie Estrada, who used to work in publishing, tasted her first rice spirit when her business partner, Hagai Yardeny, brought some back from a motorcycle trip through Vietnam. “Everyone there drinks it out of reused plastic water bottles,” Estrada says. “I tasted it, and I said to him, ‘You fell in love with this?’ I thought it was horrible. Then I tasted another one, and it tasted delicious, almost like cashews.”

It’s hard to generalize the category of rice whiskey, given the many different ways distillers make the base rice spirit. But common characteristics include a light mouthfeel, hints of subtle fruit and sugary brightness, and the classic whiskey notes of caramel, oak tannin and vanilla.

There are still only a few distillers making it worldwide, and several in Japan, with an interesting twist. One, Kikori Whiskey, was founded by an American, Ann Soh Woods, who makes her whiskey in Japan but can only sell it in the U.S.; the Japanese have stricter rules than America does about what constitutes whiskey. (There are two other Japanese distilleries that make rice whiskey and must export it to the US to sell it.)

Look for one of these bottles to give it a try yourself.

Kikori Whiskey

Ann Soh Woods may well be the mother of rice whiskey: hers, Kikori, was the first to be widely distributed in the U.S. Kikori is made on the west coast of southern Japan using locally sourced rice. It’s aged for three to ten years in American and French oak casks as well as sherry casks.

Tasting Notes: Sugary and grassy on the nose, with light hints of citrus, minerality, and sweet bread.

Fukano Whisky

Fukano Distillery has been making shochu since the 19th century. Its whisky is made at the same distillery, located on the island of Kyushu, in both a blend (“Fukano whisky”) and single cask (“Fukano single cask”) form. Whisky Advocate named the blend one of its 20 best whiskies of the year in 2017.

Tasting Notes: Bright and citrusy, with notes of lychee, raspberry, and peach; also some peppery spice.

Ohishi Sherry Cask

Another Japanese rice whisky that must be imported to the US. Thirty percent of the mashbill is their own locally grown rice; the other seventy percent is mochi rice. They make both a brandy cask and a sherry cask whisky — though the sherry cask is consistently rated higher of the two.

Tasting Notes: the subtleness of rice makes the perfect canvas for showcasing a bomb of sherry. It’s a dark red color, with notes of grape, vanilla, and dried fruits.

Môtô Spirits Whiskey

Marie Estrada and Hagai Yardeny started making their rice whiskey in an apartment complex. Today, they’re onto a big 120-gallon jacketed electric still. They age their stuff in bourbon barrels that have been seasoned with their own spirit.

Tasting Notes: Citrusy notes, plus strong bourbon notes, including wood, vanilla, honey and a touch of smoky char.

Vinn Distillery

The Ly family makes their rice spirit the traditional baijiu way, using parallel fermentation and solid-state distillation, where both liquids and solids are fermented. Ly compares the raw spirit to “a cross between sake and tequila, white whiskey and a hint of gin.” It’s aged in virgin American oak, heavy char #4. They recommend drinking it straight or with ginger beer, in a so-scalled “Shanghai mule.”

Tasting Notes: A unique nose, with earthiness and funk. More familiar flavors on the palate, like vanilla and oak, plus a distinct flavor of toasted rice pudding.

Atelier Vie Riz Whiskey

Jedd Haas has been distilling and selling unaged rice whiskey since 2013, using rice grown in Louisiana. In the past several years, he’s released several aged versions, including his latest, aged in small oak barrels for eaxtly one year and one month.

Tasting Notes:
The unaged stuff has been noted to have flavors of chocolate and licorice. The aged version should add caramel, vanilla, and oak tannin.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 10 Best Whiskey Cocktails to Make at Home

Whiskey drinking culture doesn’t have to be the sole domain of Glencairn glasses, eyedroppers and stuffy tasting sessions (contrary to what the whiskey cognoscenti might say). It can be something both more casual and elegant. That is the role of the cocktail. Here, the ten best whiskey-based cocktails to make at home.

Old Fashioned

There’s much to dispute regarding the undisputed king of whiskey cocktails. Rye or bourbon? Cherry or no cherry? Soda or no soda? This recipe, courtesy of the now-closed whiskey bar Post Office in Brooklyn, keeps it straightforward, approachable and altogether classic. Affordable rye, no cherry, a pair of citrus peels, some bitters and a sugar cube — that’s it.

Manhattan

Source: Food & Wine | Photo: Wendell T. Webber

Two parts whiskey to one part vermouth with a pair of Angostura bitters stirred in ice. That’s the most classic version of this classic whiskey drink, and it’s exactly what Food & Wine‘s recipe calls for. Throw a maraschino cherry on top for garnish.

Whiskey Smash

Source: Bon Appétit | Photo: Zach DeSart

Smash cocktails are not sophisticated drinks. They are cold, bright and refreshing. And though the whiskey smash often takes a backseat to its vodka and rum counterparts, it’s no less enjoyable.

Milk Punch

Source: Garden & Gun | Photo: Johnny Autry

Most milk punch nowadays is built around bourbon, not brandy. Make it instead of eggnog during the holidays. Garden & Gun’s recipe comes from a cocktail bar in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Whiskey Highball

Source: Punch | Photo: Lizzie Munro

An argument could be made that the highball is not a cocktail, but the ubiquity and painstaking attention to detail on display in Japanese whisky highball culture demands its inclusion on this list. Punch’s recipe comes courtesy of a small cocktail bar in Kaga, Japan.

Mint Julep

Source: Liquor.com

The Kentucky Derby classic doesn’t have to be an annual drink. It’s fresh, cold and lets your choice bourbon do most of the work, so you don’t have to.

Rattlesnake

Source: Bon Appétit | Photo: Ted Cavanaugh

The Rattlesnake is a powerful, albeit lesser-known drink. At first glance (and taste), it’s easy to mistake it for a classic whiskey sour. Then the absinthe hits. Use a whiskey with an especially high rye content so that the rye’s spiciness cuts through the egg white and lemon. Redemption Rye and WhistlePig’s rye offerings both work well in this regard, as does the much-maligned Bulleit rye.

Hot Toddy

Source: Epicurious

We can’t comment on its efficacy as a salve for the common cold, but we can say it’s a nice way to warm up in a dark New York winter. The use of low-rye bourbon, lemon and hot water makes the vanilla flavors in the whiskey explode forward.

Whiskey Sour

Source: Punch | Photo: Daniel Krieger

Few drinks are as foundational to cocktail culture as the humble sour. It’s sweet, rich and, of course, pleasantly sour. But the addition of the egg white into the standard combination of lemon, sugar, whiskey and ice makes it something else entirely — technically, that’s a Boston Sour.

Sazerac

Source: Garden & Gun | Photo: Cedric Angeles

The straightforwardness of the Sazerac makes it appear to be a simple drink. It isn’t. Striking the balance between bitters, simple syrup, absinthe and spirit is a sign of bartending proficiency. And though it’s almost always made as a whiskey drink now, its roots are cognac-based. Feel free to substitute the cognac in this recipe for your choice rye if that’s not your thing.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 10 Best Beer Festivals in America

If it’s rare beer you’re after, the local watering hole will only get you so far. For the ultimate beer-tasting experience, you’ll need to hit one of the country’s many beer festivals, where attendees have the chance to taste rare beers from heavy hitters and hyped breweries. These one-stop-shops let craft beer nerds and casual drinkers try exclusive brews while chatting with the brewers who made them.

Of course, not all beer festivals are created equal. So what makes a festival worth attending? The rarity of the beers being poured, the quality of the breweries attending (invitationals tend to be more selective) and the ticket price. Still don’t know where to start? We’ve done the hard research and put together the following list of the best beer fests in America.

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

Location: Paso Robles, CA
Dates: June 1
Notable Breweries: Garage Project, Jester King Brewery, The Bruery, Side Project Brewing, Burial Beer Co.
Ticket Prices: $90+

Widely regarded as the top beer festival in America, Firestone Walker Invitational brings together more than 50 of the world’s most hyped and in-demand brewers, who all bring their A-games (read: best beers) to this annual fest in California. Beyond the beer, food trucks abound and grub comes with the price of a ticket — assuming you can grab one before they sell out after going on sale every February.

Other Half Pastry Town/Green City

Brooklyn’s Other Half has made a name for itself with New England-style IPAs and imperial stouts, and it has capitalized on its successes by framing two invitational beer fests — one in February and the other in June — around those styles. Oh, there’s amateur wrestling, too. It doesn’t get much more Brooklyn than that.

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Dates: February / June
Notable Breweries: Grimm Artisanal Ales, WeldWerks Brewing, The Alchemist, Hudson Valley Brewery, Tired Hands Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: $100+

Great American Beer Festival

Location: Denver, CO
Dates: October 3-6
Notable Breweries: Revolution Brewing, Allagash Brewing Co, The Veil, Societe Brewing Company, Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $85+

For a long time, the Great American Beer Festival (founded in 1982) was the paragon beer fest in the U.S. Part competition, part public tasting event, it is a unique combination of breweries vying for coveted GABF medals in over 100 beer styles — it’s the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States. You have to be smart and selective about the beers you go after, but there are not many other festivals where a ticket gets you the ability to sample over 4,000 beers. If you’re looking for the biggest “scene” event in craft brewing, the Brewer’s Association GABF is still it.

Extreme Beer Fest

Location: Boston, MA
Dates: February 1-2
Notable Breweries: Dogfish Head, Highland Park Brewery, Lamplighter Brewery, Monday Night Brewing, The Rare Barrel
Ticket Prices: $65+

Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest has been going for 16 years. Pulling in over 130 breweries in 2019, it celebrates brewers who push the boundaries and spur creativity — no wonder Dogfish Head, led by James Beard Award winner Sam Caligione, is the lead sponsor. Brewers are encouraged to bring their best brews, especially those that are sessionable. When tasting lots of beers, less can sometimes be more.

Hop Culture Juicy Brews Craft Beer Festival

Location: All over the U.S.
Dates: Usually once a month
Notable Breweries: Bissell Brothers, Mast Landing Brewing Company, Foam Brewers, Half Acre Beer Company, Bearded Iris Brewing
Ticket Prices: $60+

Hop Culture has turned the craft beer phenomenon of the New England IPA into a (mostly) monthly beer fest. Usually hosted with a brewery in whichever city it takes place, Juicy Brews has invigorated the beer fest scene and helped the craft beer world overcome festival fatigue syndrome. Collaboration is the name of the game for Juicy Brews, and most of the breweries that attend brew a beer specifically for the event that’s only available there or in their taprooms.

Oregon Brewers Festival

Location: Portland, OR
Dates: July 24-27
Notable Breweries: Boneyard Beer, Fort George Brewery, Sunriver Brewing Co., Friem Family Brewers, Gigantic Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: Free to enter, $20 for a mug and 10 beer tokens

This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival will, for the first time since it was founded in 1988, exclusively feature Oregon craft beers and ciders. Good thing Oregon has one of the best beer scenes in the country. There’s also no admission charge, meaning you’re not riddled with the feeling of having to get your money’s worth. While it’s not necessarily a beer fest to seek out those rare white whales, it is one that typically offers nice summertime vibes in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.

Hill Farmstead’s Festival of Farmhouse Ales

Location: Greensboro Bend, VT
Dates: August 3
Notable Breweries: Brasserie de Blaugies, The Lost Abbey Brewing Company, Russian River Brewing, Shelton Brothers Imports (Drie Fonteinen)
Ticket Prices: $100+

Leave it to the adored Hill Farmstead to concept a beer festival that’s entirely unique to them. What started as a weekend shared with brewer friends in 2006 has morphed into a bucket-list beer festival for beer fans from the world over. Even more extradonary is that it showcases one style of beer: the farmhouse ale. The ticket package includes a tasting glass, beer samples, designated driver entry and live music — food is on-site for purchase. This year’s FoFA features beer from only five breweries (including Hill Farmstead), and they’re all bangers.

Great Taste of the Midwest

Location: Madison, WI
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Bell’s Brewery, Rhinegeist Brewery, Mikerphone Brewing, Founders Brewing Co., Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $60

The Midwest is full of craft beer stalwarts and up-and-coming breweries. The Great Taste of the Midwest brings them all to one place. Over 190 breweries descend upon Olin Park overlooking Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, to give drinkers the chance to sample beers from breweries that are spread out across the Plains. This beer fest will operate its 33rd edition in 2019 and the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild does a superb job of making sure attendees won’t have to stand in long lines all day by limiting the number of tickets to the event.

Modern Times’s Festival of Dankness

Location: San Diego, CA
Dates: August – TBD
Notable Breweries: Modern Times Beer, Bottle Logic Brewing, Brouwerij West, Trve Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $50+

San Diego is a craft beer mecca, with Modern Times Beer at the forefront. The brewery’s Festival of Dankness is a one-day tribute to hops, and the list of brewers that attend is on-par with just about any other beer fest in the U.S. There is something to be said for leaning into the most popular beer style and creating an epic festival around it in one of the most beer-centric cities in the United States.

Trillium Field Trip

Location: Canton, MA
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Trillium Brewing Company, Evil Twin Brewing, Great Notion Brewery, Monkish Brewing Co., J. Wakefield Brewing
Ticket Prices: $50+

Some beer fests are all about quantity and variety. Trillium’s Field Trip isn’t one of them. Only 1,200 general admission tickets and 300 VIP tickets are up for grabs this year. This two-session event offers a carefully curated lineup of beers and breweries. Founded in 2018, Field Trip has already made a name for itself thanks to Trillium’s collaborative nature.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 6 Best Beers to Drink on the Fourth of July, According to Brewers

The Fourth of July is a time for hanging out in the backyard, going to the beach and enjoying a beer or two while celebrating the independence of America. One of our favorite ways to do that is with a few independent craft beers — not many people embody the American spirit better than a craft brewer.

So we reached out to a few of them see which beers they’ll be drinking to celebrate America’s birthday. Light, low in ABV and easy-drinking are the qualities they all have in common, which works out — you’ll probably want to drink more than one.

Folksbier Brauerei Cucumber Lime Glow Up

Beer Style: Sour – Berline Weisse
ABV: 4%
Brewery Location: Brooklyn, NY
Distribution: Local

“Last weekend, I had Cucumber-Lime Glow Up by Folksbier for the first time. It’s bright, refreshing, and crisp, with a modest acidity that’s never overpowering, but always present. At 4%, I could drink it all afternoon. Small cans so your beer never warms up and bright neon labels that make them hard to lose. While we can’t get it in Vermont, it’s the first beer that came to mind.” — Jon Farmer, Foam Brewers

Bohemian Brewery 1842 Czech Pilsener Lager

Beer Style: Pilsner – Czech
ABV: 4%
Brewery Location: Midvale, UT
Distribution: Local

“I had what I think is the best Czech pilsner brewed in the States just a few days ago, from a place called Bohemian Brewery — they’re out in Midvale, near Salt Lake City Utah. It’s a style I love, and one that’s deceptively hard to make — there’s no hiding with a pilsner. They don’t sell [in Boston], but if they did, I’d have some in stock this weekend. Any chance they’ll read this and send me some?” — Dan Kierny, Harpoon Brewery

Half Acre Tuna Session India Pale Ale

Beer Style: Session India Pale Ale
ABV: 4.7%
Brewery Location: Chicago, IL
Distribution: Regional

“If I could be drinking anything this Fourth of July, it’d be Tuna from Half Acre. It’s a just-complex-enough pale ale with a hop presence that isn’t so massive as to nuke your palate. It’s just complex enough to keep you reeled in for a full day of drinking. Those folks are hops wizards and witches.” — Nick Nunns, TRVE Brewing Co.

Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale

Beer Style: Farmhouse Ale – Saison
ABV: 6%
Brewery Location: Newcastle, ME
Distribution: Regional

“Oxbow’s Farmhouse Pale Ale is a 6% ABV blonde ale fermented with their house saison yeast and hopped entirely with American hops. This beer was part of Oxbow’s original line up when they first opened in 2011 and is now available in bottle conditioned 330mL bottles for on-the-go consumption. It’s a great beer to drink on July Fourth since it’s super dry and has just enough hop character to keep things balanced, but also because it combines elements of old world brewing and American innovation.” — Joey Pepper, Folksbier Brauerei

Allagash White

Beer Style: Witbier
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Portland, ME
Distribution: Regional

“I’ve recently revisited Allagash White for the first time in a while, as one of our local beer bars in Athens has been keeping it on draft this summer. It’d be tough to find a more refreshing, just perfectly executed beer to sip while grilling outdoors in the heat this holiday weekend.” — Adam Beauchamp, Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Holy Mountain Holy Light

Beer Style: Light American Lager
ABV: 4.6%
Brewery Location: Seattle, WA
Distribution: Local

“My top pick for Fourth of July this year will be Holy Mountain’s Holy Light. I was recently in Seattle and brought back several cans of this delectable session-strength lager that packs much more flavor and body than its 4.6% ABV would suggest.” — Tim Adams, Oxbow Brewing

The Best Things We Drank This Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Crown Royal Noble Collection (French Oak Finished)

As evidenced by a number of whiskey makers out there (including one later on this list), experimenting with oak types in aging and barrel finishing is the thing to do right now. And though Crown may not be the whiskey drinker’s whiskey, it can still turn out great bottles. The brand’s Noble Collection has rolled out banger after banger (each has earned at least a 90 from Whisky Advocate), and the French oak finished isn’t an exception. It’s got the lightness and vanilla bomb qualities associated with the brand, but the French oak, a denser, more tannin-heavy wood, shifts the structure of the whisky completely. It’s still light in proof and potency, but it carries a creaminess other Crown doesn’t. It’s retailing for $60. Hunt it down and pour it over ice.

Allagash Tiny House

The Maine brewery that introduced America to the joys of Belgian beer released a house beer. It’s 3.5 percent ABV, it’s dry hopped with Amarillo and it’s just a little malty. More importantly, it’s an incredibly crushable, flavorful, no-bullshit beer from one of America’s best breweries. If you can find Allagash at your local shop, Tiny House may be the ideal summer six-pack.

Old Charter Oak (Second Release)

Buffalo Trace’s new Old Charter Oak line is a study in wood. Releasing quarterly and in limited quantities, every drop will be a different experiment with oak. The second release is 12-year-old Mashbill #1 Buffalo Trace bourbon aged entirely in French oak barrels. Because French oak grows at a tighter grain than the usual American oak, the whiskey inside the barrel interacts differently with it. Like the Crown Royal French Oak finished whisky above, the most notable difference between this installment of Old Charter Oak and a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace is texture. It’s a more velvety bourbon that touches on different parts of the mouth, especially the back part of the jaw. This is to be sipped neat side-by-side with a similar bottle from Buffalo Trace’s line.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Complete Buying Guide to Suntory Japanese Whisky: Important Brands and Bottles Explained

Yamazaki. Hakushu. Hibiki. When a Westerner thinks of Japanese whisky, they think of names under the House of Suntory. Which makes sense, of course — Shinjiro Torii’s company, founded in 1923, is Japan’s first and most popular whisky maker. But it wasn’t always that way.

In 1929, Torii hired Masataka Taketsuru to create the world’s first Japanese whisky. They got it wrong. The expression, called Suntory Shirofuda, tasted too much like Scotch — too peaty, too powerful. Torii realized the Japanese palate didn’t want ultra-smokey peat bombs; it wanted finesse. So they made what has since become the most popular whisky Japan: Suntory Kakubin. It’s light, punchy and floral, the baseline for all Japanese whiskies to come.

Since then, Suntory’s whiskies have grown in volume, quality and prestige. It operates three distilleries across Japan — Yamazaki Distillery, Hakushu Distillery, Chita Distillery — each with its own purpose and flair. Here’s everything you need to know.

Editor’s Note: Suntory has recently discontinued many of its expressions, citing the growing popularity of Japanese whisky and general stock shortages. Those are included in this guide, as they remain available in limited quantities in and outside of Japan.

Hibiki


The most luxe of Suntory’s whisky holdings also happens to be its most Japanese. Hibiki, which first hit shelves in 1989, was designed as a more palatable alternative to blended Scotch, meant to be sipped neat or over ice.

Each Hibiki expression is a blend of dozens of whiskies produced at all three of Suntory’s whiskey-making facilities and, as with each Suntory whisky brand, may contain spirit aged in new American oak barrels, Spanish Olorosso sherry casks, ex-bourbon barrels, ex-wine casks and the legendary (not to mention extraordinarily expensive) Japanese Mizunara oak barrel.

The size and variability of the Hibiki toolkit is what separates it from Suntory’s other whiskies. It’s the only of the company’s whiskies that contains parts from every distillery, every wood type and every barrel in its repertoire. The results are intensely floral and fruity that, as you climb in years-in-barrel, present more depth, citrus notes and tannic twists.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

SRP: $65
Street Price: $65-$100
Year Introduced: 2015
Production: Ongoing

Within the Hibiki line, only Japanese Harmony (the sole non-age statement Hibiki expression) remains at or near its listed retail price in the U.S. It’s a composite of Chita grain whisky and Yamazaki and Hakushu single malt whiskies, and though Suntory discloses no age information for the whiskies in the Harmony blend, it’s likely younger than the other offerings under the Hibiki umbrella. Japanese Harmony leans heavily on its springiness — it’s heavily floral and citrusy on the nose and palate — but it lacks some barrel flavors like vanilla, maple and wood spice until the finish. Pour it over ice for best results.

Hibiki 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $350-$450
Year Introduced: 2009
Production: Discontinued

The first of Suntory’s whisky to get the axe … Hibiki 12 was discontinued in 2015, so despite its status as the youngest of the line’s age-statement collection, it’s no easier to track down than its older siblings. The liquid itself exhibits an immediate woody note on the nose, with the brighter, more acidic notes relegated to a supporting role. The taste is closer to Harmony than expected, but is noticeably less watery rolling around the mouth and it’s apparent there’s a different variable at play. In this case, it’s a significant portion of time spent aging in ex-plum liqueur barrels, a practice other Hibiki bottles don’t include.

Hibiki 17

SRP: $150
Street Price: $450-$600
Year Introduced: 1989
Production: Discontinued

The discontinuation of Hibiki 17 was perhaps the biggest Japanese whisky news of 2018, and for good reason. It’s the benchmark Hibiki — an award-getting bottle that shows off the power of Japanese whisky making technique and, more specifically, the Mizunara oak tree.

Whisky aged in Mizunara casks is thought to need more time to reach its potential than traditional aging types; thus, the older the Hibiki expression, the more Mizunara characteristic. In this case, that means a spirit with a weighty body, heavy coconut and sandalwood aroma and a balanced sweet- and spice-driven taste profile.

Hibiki 21

SRP: $250
Street Price: $850-$1,100
Year Introduced: 1989
Production: Ongoing

If a betting man were to put money on the next discontinuation domino to fall, it’d be on Hibiki 21. The oldest of the U.S.-available Hibiki products carries a significantly more wood-driven (Mizunara especially) flavor than the 17 or the 12. Its finish is more drawn out, and the sweet and bright notes you get at first sip with Harmony and the 12 don’t show up as quickly. But 21 isn’t what one would call overoaked — Hibiki’s trademark floral acidity cuts through the richness. If you’re able to order a pour at a bar, do so neat for the full experience.

Hakushu


Suntory’s Hakushu distillery is hidden under a mountain in central Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture. The whisky made there is defined by its intensely forested environment and, more pragmatically, peated malt. Hakushu is the only whisky in the Suntory profile that utilizes peated malt (the company imports it from Scotland), but thanks to exceptionally low mineral content water flowing from Mount Kaikomagatake and a much lower peat level, it’s intentionally tamer than the peat bombs Scotch drinkers may be used to.

Hakushu 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $125-$200
Year Introduced: 1994
Production: Discontinued

The first of two U.S.-distributed Hakushu offerings, 12 offers up what the Hakushu line’s deep green bottle promises: freshness. On the nose and palate, 12 is bursting with Hakushu’s rich terroir — pine, mint, grass, chamomile, rosemary and lemon. The peat comes through most on the nose and finish, where it amounts to a background profile flavor. Hakushu 12 was discontinued May of 2018, but it can still be found with a little digging. Just expect a considerable markup.

Hakushu 18

SRP: $250
Street Price: $400-$600
Year Introduced: 1994
Production: Ongoing

This expression is the exact same base spirit as 12, just six years older. It’s also three- to five-times the price. The 18-year-old channels the 12-year-old bottle’s freshness, and goes deeper. It’s fresh herbal notes become dried herbal notes and the citrus is replaced with a big, ripe sweetness. The peat is still there, but shows up more on first tasting than it does near the end of a glass.

Yamazaki


Located in a Kyoto suburb, the Yamazaki Distillery is the birthplace of Japanese whisky. Its many-layered whiskies serve as an introductory course to Japanese whisky — light-bodied, clean, rich in fruit and floral quality with varying degrees of spice. Yamazaki whisky isn’t as distinctive as Hakushu and it isn’t as poetic as Hibiki, but it’s an idealistic interpretation of what Japanese whisky is and should be.

Yamazaki 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $125-$200
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Ongoing

The most popular Japanese single malt in the world was also the first. Yamazaki 12 is primarily made up of whisky aged in American oak and ex-bourbon casks, with trace amounts of whisky coming from Olorosso or Mizunara casks. For Westerners, this lends it a slightly more familiar flavor — at least initially. What follows are the rich, standard markers for Japanese whisky: delicate fruit, light spice and a long, sherry-driven finish.

Yamazaki 18

SRP: $250
Street Price: $500-$1,000
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Discontinued

The 18-year-old expression nails the same profile as the 12-year-old, but the order is reversed. Instead of sherry on the back-end, it’s the first thing you taste. The followup is a swell of barrel-derived flavor compounds picked up from six more years in casks: vanilla, coconut, butterscotch, toffee and so on. As with Hibiki 17 and up, the Mizunara cask impact is greater than on the 18 than the 12, with loads of sandalwood that stay with you from nosing to the finish.

Yamazaki 25

SRP: $1,600
Street Price: $7,500+
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Ongoing

Forwarning: you will (likely) never drink this expression. Everything about Yamazaki 25 is excessive (the color is literally darker than the barrels it’s aged in). One of the few Japanese whiskies that could fairly be described as oak-aggressive, the 25-year-old bottling packs a payload unlike its younger counterparts — heavy wood tannin astringency, deep sweetness as all stages of tasting and a consistent sherry bite that cuts through all of it. If you want to try it, your best bet is to patron a well-stocked bar and order a pour. Otherwise, a bottle will run you upward of $7,500 in store, or $10,000-plus online.

Other Notable Bottles

Kakubin

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 1937
Production: Ongoing

Think of Kakubin as Japan’s Jim Beam White Label — it’s cheap, available everywhere and just good enough to mix with soda for a decent drink. Effectively the second Japanese whisky ever made, its light body and slightly spicy profile were built to mix into a highball and cut through the carbonation just enough. It’s unavailable in U.S. stores, though you could buy this online from a number of sites, but prices are far exaggerated from Kakubin’s status as a convenience store whisky in its home country. Our advice: wait until you make it to Japan yourself before picking up bottles. Its price means it the perfect bulk buy, and its story makes it an ideal travel gift.

Toki

SRP: $35
Street Price: $35-$50
Year Introduced: 2016
Production: Ongoing

Suntory designed Toki to do one thing extraordinarily well: mix in highballs. After all, Japan’s favorite way to consume whiskey — which entails mixing a few ounces of whisky with a few ounces of club soda (lemon spritz optional) — was not a prudent way to use up more mature bottles. Toki is primarily made up of Hakushu malted whiskies and a heavy helping of Chita grain whisky (Chita can be purchased as its own expression in Japan), giving it a springy, velvety nose and mouthfeel with enough spice to cut through soda and ice dilution. The mixture is finished with trace amounts of Yamazaki aged in American oak and Spanish sherry casks. Available in nearly any decent liquor store, it’s perhaps the only Japanese party whisky.

Chita

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2015
Production: Ongoing

For blending purposes, Chita grain whisky serves as dashi; it’s the whisky equivalent to broth in a stew — a flavorful foundation, but not the star of the show. In 2015, Suntory decided to bottle a single grain variant to sell in Japan (it hasn’t made it to the States yet). No one would recommend it for sipping neat or on the rocks, but it’s a perfectly capable highball whisky, especially if you prefer more passive flavor profiles. Tasting Chita also serves as an education tool for those aiming to understand the building blocks of Japanese whisky, as it’s presence is easy to miss in Hibiki and Toki bottlings.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2014
Production: Ongoing

You’ll notice a pattern with Suntory’s most recent whisky releases: no age statements. Unavailable in the U.S., Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is essentially Yamazaki Light. It’s composed of the stuff that goes into the more mature expressions, but it lacks the depth brought on by said maturation. It’s a good place to start trying Yamazaki, and one that, if you find yourself in Japan, won’t break the bank.

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2014
Production: Ongoing

This is just like Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve but made entirely with Hakushu whiskies. It carries the huge green notes and mild peatiness of its older catalog mates, but it has a much quicker, one note finish. Also like the Yamazaki, less complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Best Everyday Bourbon Whiskeys Are Affordable and Easy to Find

Bourbon culture is a lot like sneaker culture. We wait in lines, enter raffles and hunt on secondary markets for bottles with the words “Limited Edition” etched in gold leaf (or we get a Task Rabbit to do the deed for us).

For everyday whiskey drinkers not part of the Instagram #crotchshot generation, frustration can set in. What must the layman do to buy even the most humble of allocated bottles? An answer can be gleaned from the WOPR supercomputer in WarGames — “the only winning move is not to play.”

Maybe it’s time we all embraced the anti-hype: The lower-middle shelf. The bourbon normcore. Because the best whiskey isn’t the stuff flipped for hundreds of dollars on your local Facebook group. It’s in those bottles that are always on the shelf, always reasonably priced and always good. Here are five standbys.

Wild Turkey 101

Price: $20-$25
Proof: 101
Age: 6-, 7-, 8-year-old blend

Somehow, someway, the whiskey you drank at college is cool among bourbon bros. It isn’t without reason. Wild Turkey’s high-proof, low-cost 101 blends 6-, 7- and 8-year old whiskeys, and it is made with the same mashbill, barrel char and process as all its other whiskey (both high- and low-end). There isn’t a bottle at you local liquor store that packs more flavor into every dollar than 101. The $20 to $25 bottle, bursting with vanilla, oak and black pepper, is the perfect gateway into high-powered bourbon.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Price: $25-$30
Proof: 94
Age: 8- to 12-year-old blend

After a long stint as an oaky 12-year-old whiskey, Elijah Craig Small Batch lost its age statement in 2016. This wasn’t well-received by the bourbon community, but the bottle has remained the same proof and price as it was then, and it’s better than almost everything it sits next to on the shelf.

The contemporary expression is a composite of 8- to 12-year-old juice. It’s both an excellent table whiskey and appetizer for Heaven Hill’s harder-hitting bottles (namely, the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof). Given the price, you can mix it without guilt, though its flavor is good enough to drink out of a snifter.

Four Roses Small batch

Price: $30-$35
Proof: 90
Age: 6-, 7-year-old blend

Five expressions comprise Four Roses’s permanent whiskey portfolio, which scales linearly in price and, to most drinker’s minds, quality. Between the Yellow Label and Single Barrel offerings lies Small Batch, a high- and low-rye blend an 6- to 7-year-old bourbons. According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, the final mix is a dead-even split of two mashbills and a 70-30 split of the distillery’s K (slight spice) and O (rich fruit) yeast strains. The final result is an equally warm, dry, sweet, caramel-forward bottle that’s remained remarkably consistent over time.

Knob Creek Single Barrel

Price: $35-$45
Proof: 120
Age: 9-years-old

One could argue that Knob Creek’s Single Barrel Reserve doesn’t deserve a place on this list — especially when the standard Knob Creek straight bourbon is a perfectly good alternative. To hell with that.

This carries a 9-year age statement, the allure of the single barrel, near cask strength proof (120!) and an easy-to-like brown sugar taste. All that for $35 to $45 is a steal in today’s bourbon environment, and you’d be a fool not to buy it. Sip Single Barrel straight, with an ice cube or mix into an Old Fashioned — the baking spice richness works nicely with the orange.

Old Forester Signature 100

Price: $25-$30
Proof: 100
Age: No age information available

Signature 100 is the modern history of bourbon in a bottle. After the federal government signed the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 into law, Old Forester juiced its staple offering from 90 proof to 100 proof to meet the new standard. But when drinkers began favoring lighter spirits — vodka, rum and the like — the whiskey category tanked, and Old Forester was forced to blend its whiskey down to 86 proof. As the whiskey industry returned, so did Signature 100 — a stouter, older (though still without an age statement), more flavorful version of the easy-drinking 86 proof offering. Its initial taste and finish are characterized by a caramel richness and fruit sweetness. Find it anywhere for $25 to $30.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

How to Buy Better Beer, According to a Bottle Shop Owner

My first visit to a bottle shop was in college, right after I turned 21, with a friend who had the beer bug as bad as me. The rows of bottles behind the frosted glass, the hum of the refrigeration, the watchful eye of the owner — all together, it cast a spell on us. We were suddenly giddy, like kids in a beer-filled candy shop.

Then we were overwhelmed. This is the problem with the best bottle shops: you’re spoiled for choice. But it’s better than what you’ll sometimes find elsewhere: overpriced beer, old bottles (so-called “shelf turds”), asshole patrons or, worse, asshole owners. Oftentimes, it’s enough to drive you to the corner store, where the selections might suck, but at least you’re not harried about beer, of all things.

A better solution: find the right bottle shop, and go from there.

ABC Beer Co., in Manhattan, has been open for seven years. It’s one of the best beer stores in New York City, replete with well-stocked coolers, a small bar, communal seating and tasty bites. Zach Mack, its cofounder, says things have only changed for the better since they opened. “Seven years ago, there were fewer beer options out there, and people considered themselves a lot less knowledgeable,” he says. “Now, people who didn’t drink beer back then are drinking sours, saisons, all sorts of stuff. It’s widened the market.” We asked him how to navigate the craft bottle shop scene. Here are some of his tips.

Don’t be crippled by indecision, embrace it. The reality is, at a good bottle shop, there’s too much to choose from. “Sometimes I get FOMO standing in front of my own refrigerators,” Mack says. “I sit there for upwards of 25 minutes. People are like, ‘don’t you own this place?’”

It’s fun to take your time. “When I was growing up,” Mack says, “I loved walking around record stores, and bookstores, spending time perusing shelves and seeing what jumped out. The act of standing in front of products is quickly vanishing from lives. I revel in doing that with beer. And the same path to discovery can happen at a bottle shop. Sometimes, if I stand there long enough, I end up picking something I never knew I wanted.”

Pay attention to freshness. More breweries and distributors are worrying about freshness than ever before. You should, too. “It matters more for specific styles,” Mack says. “IPAs need to be as fresh as possible. Barrel-aged stouts are a different story.”

“Some breweries use cryptic, strange systems,” Mack adds. One prominent example is the Julian code, which is based on the day of the year. December 21 would be 365. “It’s more of a European thing, but it’s happening in the U.S., too,” he says.

Consult a human, not an app. “Don’t go on an app and double check to what people say you should buy,” Mack says. “God forbid you’re shopping for a pilsner, and look it up. Apparently, all pilsners in the world are mediocre at best.”

Have a human interaction instead. “Talk to other shoppers and ask what they like. Certainly ask the staff. Any place worth shopping at will have knowledgeable employees. Some of the best beers I’ve had are from asking someone to point me to the last thing they had that really opened their eyes.”

Subscribe to a newsletter. Yes, newsletters can make you cringe. But a bottleshop letter is the best way to keep up to date about what’s coming and going. “We use our newsletter to let people know which new breweries are available, cue big releases and update about special events,” Mack says. Following your local shop on social media, where they’ll often post about upcoming releases, can give you a leg up, too.

Become a regular — but don’t expect special treatment. “We have a bunch of regulars who are good, friendly people,” Mack says. “You don’t have to spend a ton of money to be a regular. It’s about engaging in a positive way. They let me know what type of beer they’re interested in, and ask politely that they’d love to be made aware if I can get it in.”

Just don’t get too comfortable. “Spend a few nights drinking with the owner, become their buddy, but at the same time, know that that doesn’t guarantee any special treatment,” Mack says.

Widen your horizons for shops, not just beers. “Your spot doesn’t have to be a hip bottle shop,” Mack says. “It could be a guy who’s passionate about beer at your local grocery store. Explore all avenues, and don’t settle for something you don’t like.”

How to Talk Bourbon: 11 Slang Terms Every Wannabe Expert Should Know

The beginning of every new hobby goes something like this: figure out you like something, seek more information, become overwhelmed with jargon, take a step back. In industries as old and technical as whiskey-making, lingo abounds — mashbill, small batch, barrel pick, high wine, high rye, distillate and so on. But at least these words have firm definitions.

Ever heard of a “sleeper” car? Ever felt “afterbang” skiing? How do you respond if a cyclist calls you a “fred”? Hobbyist talk is the true enemy of every would-be hobbyist, and bourbon, as with all activities that lend themselves to obsession, is laced with words that make little sense to the outsider. Here’s a brief guide on talking bourbon like a bona fide bourbon drinker.

Video: Talking Unicorn Bourbons With Will Price

Watch more of This Week In Gear video reviews.

Juice: Juice is just the bourbon inside a bottle. It’s used as a means to avoid saying “whiskey” or “bourbon” over and over again in conversation.

Unicorn: A unicorn — sometimes called unicorn bottle — is a sought-after bottle of limited-edition, hard-to-find bourbon. Examples of annually released unicorn bourbons include Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, Pappy anything, Four Roses Limited Editions and any bottle in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.

Honey Hole: A liquor store that is both rich in prized bottles of bourbon and sells them at or near their retail prices. Most honey holes are found on the outskirts of urban areas, where they’ll receive a city’s allocation of high-value bourbon but with far less foot traffic.

Honey Barrel: Unrelated to the honey hole, the honey barrel is something out of old-bourbon lore. It is the platonic ideal bourbon barrel — created by an unscientific, “know it when you taste it” fusion of temperature, rickhouse location, age, distiller know-how and luck.

Fake Tan: Though adding artificial caramel coloring to deepen flavor is a banned practice in the bourbon world, some drinkers insist there are distillers who give their bottle a “fake tan.” Why? Whiskey goes into a barrel as a clear spirit and comes out somewhere on the yellow-gold-brown spectrum. The longer bourbon ages in a new charred oak cask, the deeper the hue, and seeing as many drinkers still equate age to quality, a deeper color is a desirable trait.

Tater: A sign of the times. The latest word in bourbon whiskey parlance, a “tater” is an enthusiast who perpetuates the category’s newly found hype culture. Taters are the type to run to liquor stores upon hearing a bottle is getting hot — like, say, if it won an award — and buy a case for the sole purpose of re-selling it. For a more complete list of tater moves, check out the Tater-Talk’s 81-and-counting signs you might be a tater.

White Dog: Also called white lightning, white whiskey and hooch, white dog is whiskey before it goes into a barrel for aging. It’s whiskey right off the still and is called “white” because it hasn’t browned in a barrel. Its flavor is bluntly corn-forward and lacks the depth, sweetness or tannic body time spent in a barrel provides.

Angel’s Share: The wood barrels used to age bourbon are porous. Bourbon gets inside those pores and, over time, evaporates into the ether. This process results in the loss of anywhere from two to five percent of the total volume of barreled whiskey. That lost whiskey is known as the angel’s share.

The Hunt: Used as a general term in collecting vernacular to describe the search for highly coveted bottles.

Dusties: Bottles of old, out-of-production booze that’s been sitting in a case, at the back of the shelf or long buried in someone’s liquor cabinet. Hunting dusties is a graduated form of bourbon collecting — a practice that requires foreknowledge of what was made in the past, its value and, of course, where it might be hiding.

Flipper: Just like a sneaker re-seller, but for bourbon. A flipper buys bottles and proceeds to sell them on secondary markets (Craigslist, local Facebook groups, etc.) for profit. And similar to sneaker re-sellers, bourbon flippers are typically looked down upon by purists.

The Best Cigars for Beginners Share One Thing in Common

Among the Spanish-rich language of cigars — from figurado to puro — one word stands out: Connecticut. No doubt you’ll see it if you peruse your local store’s walk-in humidor. The Connecticut wrapper is one of the more common cigar wrappers, and it’s one of the most unique, too.

Along with filler and binder tobacco, a cigar’s wrapper affects flavor and aroma, and it plays an important role in the way a cigar burns. The Connecticut wrapper, as opposed to the excellent Maduro or Habano wrappers grown in the Caribbean or elsewhere, is silky-smooth to the touch and extremely light in color. Even if the filler tobacco of a Connecticut-wrapper cigar is full-bodied and spicy, the light leaf lends a creamy mildness to the smoke. This makes Connecticut wrappers ideal for a new smoker; yet when paired with something more pungent, it adds the complexity and subtlety veteran smokers love.

The Connecticut tobacco industry has contracted in the past decade. Fewer people smoke cigars today than they once did; plus, growers in the Caribbean have figured out how to grow Connecticut-seed tobacco just as well, at a fraction of the cost. So, it’s likely that your Connecticut wrapper was actually grown in Ecuador or the Dominican Republic. Consider the geographical contradiction good conversation fodder while you’re enjoying your next one.

Nat Sherman Sterling Series

For decades, Nat Sherman was mainly a cigarette maker. But since a revamp in the 2010s, they’ve resurfaced among cigar smokers as a solid, affordable brand. Their Sterling series is a great introduction to Connecticut wrappers, with mild flavors and the right price tag.

Tasting Notes: Like an afternoon cup of milky coffee: creamy and buttery, with nutty and chocolatey notes.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $132, box of 10

Undercrown Shade by Drew Estate

Drew Estate was started by a couple American “frat boys” (their words) in the late ‘90s. Their alternative approach to flavor-infused cigars (they started ACID cigars in 1999) has given way to some more traditional lines, most notably Liga Privada and Undercrown, two cult-favorite brands. Undercrown’s shade line adds an Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrapper and a twist on their filler and binder blend.

Tasting Notes: Medium bodied, with early notes of wood and leather, growing into creamy, chewy coffee notes.
Filler: Nicaragua and Dominican Republic
Binder: Sumatran
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $8+

Montecristo White Label

Montecristo is a classic brand, beloved by cigar smokers for just about everything they do. In particular, their flavors are known to be among the smoothest — starting with the famous Montecristo No. 2, a benchmark Cuban. The White Label line pairs a Connecticut wrapper to that smoothness, with great results.

Tasting Notes: Toasty, nutty flavors, paired with peppery spice that lingers on the back of the tongue.
Filler: Nicaragua and Dominican Republic
Binder: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $330 (box of 27)

Montecristo Churchill Natural

Just like the White Label, the Churchill “Classic” line (sometimes called Montecristo Yellow) is a line of mellow, smooth cigars. But its wrapper is grown in Connecticut, not Ecuador; inside, its all-Dominican filler and binder make a spicier, more medium-bodied smoke — easy to graduate to from the White Label.

Tasting Notes: Smooth, silky smoke, with creamy notes, wood, and white pepper.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Connecticut
Price: $380 (box of 25)

Nub Connecticut

You’ll know a Nub when you see one. The brand is owned by Oliva, and makes short, stubby cigars. The idea is you get more of the bold flavors that come in the final third of the cigar — for the whole cigar. That adds a new, intense wrinkle to the Connecticut wrapper.

Tasting Notes: Rich, white smoke, with lots of buttery, nutty, and woody notes.
Filler: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $8

Davidoff White Label Short Perfecto

Sometimes an expensive cigar is well worth the price. That might as well be Davidoff’s model; their sticks are the Ferrari of cigars. This short perfecto is a smaller smoke, which makes it a more affordable way to enjoy the brand’s complex tobacco blend.

Tasting Notes: Light, buttery smoke that eventually gives way to earthy spice in the last two thirds of the cigar.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $18+