The Craft Side of Bourbon
Age ain’t nothing but a number. Just take a gander at the new Bourbons storming the shores of Lake Michigan. With all due respect to their elders (we’re looking at you, Kentucky), these young whippersnappers have their own way of doing things and aren’t afraid of experimentation and getting a bit crazy with their craft. Kind of like that one night during your freshman year of college. You know the one.
Okay, you’re giving us that look. “Lake Michigan?” We know, we know… Kentucky gets all the love when it comes to any serious discussion on Bourbon. After all, the corn-based Whiskey’s name was derived from Bourbon County in Kentucky, where it’s been produced since the 18th century.
But there’s a new craft side of Bourbon that’s picking up steam, particularly to the north. The three distilleries being featured in your Tasting Box opened their doors around Lake Michigan after Prohibition, making them the new kids on the Whiskey block. Now remember: all Bourbons are Whiskey, but not all Whiskeys are Bourbon. (We’ll get into that a bit more in the Smartass Corner.)
The three young’uns featured in your Box are a precocious lot, with a preference for locally-sourced ingredients and a rambunctious streak that results in new expressions and out-of-the-box innovation. You’ve got Koval, a Gold Medalist overachiever sort, with the sweetness of an apricot custard and a peppery caramel finish. Then there’s FEW, the spicy smooth talker of the bunch and finally Journeyman’s Featherbone, a spirited and adventurous dram.
Watch yourself Kentucky, the boys from the north mean business.
Now let’s throw back a tumbler and toast to youth!
1. Time to make good on our word. Here’s what separates Bourbon from the rest of the Whiskeys:
- It must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
- It must be distilled to no more than 80% ABV and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 62.5% ABV.
- It must be matured in new and charred oak barrels.
- It must be matured, if only briefly. If a bottle does not bear an age it is at least 4 years old. If it has been aged for a minimum of 2 years and does not have added coloring, flavoring or other spirits, it may be called straight Bourbon.
- Bourbon that has an age state on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest Whiskey in the bottle.
- It must be bottled at 40% alc. or more.
2. Koval is the first distillery in Chicago since the mid-1800s. In Yiddish, “Koval” means “black sheep” or someone who does something new or out of the ordinary. Baaaa on, baby.
3. Evanston, Illinois, the home of the Temperance Movement, remained dry for over a century. You can thank the master distiller at FEW for overturning those laws to become the city’s first distiller of grain spirits.
4. EK Warren was the original builder of the factory housing Journeyman Distillery. An interesting twist to the factory’s history: Mr. Warren was a staunch Prohibitionist.
5. The craft Bourbon boom is very real. The number of craft distilleries in the US exploded from around 50 ten years ago to well over thousand in 2016.
6. Surprising Prohibition fact: Although it was illegal to make alcohol, people weren’t barred from consuming it. Patients could still legally buy liquor from the pharmacy or their doctor to cure whatever ailed them.
7. The Green Mill, a prohibition-era speakeasy and jazz club in Chicago, is still open today. Al Capone was a big fan.