Grog locker: alcohol notes

Prepping for strange times

Leave yourself a path out of the crawl space.

Learning about alcohol: It’s a fascinating subject. You couldn’t cover it in a lifetime. There are thousands of tasting videos on the internet, most not worth your time. For insights on evaluating whiskey, a Scotsman named Ralfy in the link below is your man. He’s brilliant. If you want to learn about other types of alcohol, give Ralfy a watch anyhow to gain a sense of what someone who knows what he’s talking about sounds like.

Distilling Monopolies vs Mom and Pop: One of the empowering things about alcohol consumption over the past few decades is a resurgence of craft breweries and distilleries. They’re typically started by people with a dream and a love of the craft. Young people with a lot of drive, retired couples who put their life savings into it.  At first big brewer in the U.S., who’d cornered the market after alcohol prohibition was lifted in 1933,  ignored these guys. But as the drinking public began to gravitate toward the greater variety, and (a lot of us would say) better quality mom and pops were putting out, big brewer went after that market.

What do Johnny Walker Scotch, Tanqueray Gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Ketel One Vodka, Captain Morgan Rum, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Guinness Stout, and about 200 other brands in almost every country in the world have in common? They’re all owned by alcohol’s corporate colossus, Diageo. I didn’t know about this when I started building the grog locker. But we learn as we go.

A lot of major brands, not just Diageo’s, still promote themselves as venerable distilleries of yore even though they’ve changed locations, mechanized, added ingredients that were unknown back in the day. Stuff you don’t expect like adding caramel color to scotch.  Another thing the giant brands are up to is coming out with ‘limited batches’ using bottles and labels that look like craft distilleries made them. They jack up the prices. Customers buy them thinking they’re getting something special. Then they look up where they came from and think, ‘I’ve been had.’ The take away is, when you see bottles that look like boutique brands in a big box store, you may want to research them before buying.

A possible reason to buy Tito’s vodka: Even before I knew anything about the alcohol giants I wouldn’t buy Tito’s. Why? Because they claim their spirits are ‘Handmade’ as they’re  cranking out 850,000 cases a year. Dishonest, say the people who’ve filed lawsuits against them for false advertising. Plus it’s insulting to all the small distilleries  who really are hand crafted. But! There’s a time and a place for everything.  There is one scenario I can think of to buy Tito’s–don’t ask me where I came up with this.
Are there people near you who rent their houses out as Air B&B’s when they’re not around? Do they rent to obnoxious party animals who feel entitled to be as disruptive as they want because they’re paying all that money to party next door to your place? Well friends, don’t get mad. Don’t call the cops. Cops have better things to do. And even if they come over and tell the circus to quiet down, the quiet will last all of five minutes after the cops leave. So… what you do is go grab a house wrecker or two of Tito’s vodka (the 1.75 liter bottles). On the way home, stop at a gas station and pick up a few packs of Swisher Sweets.
Wear gloves and wipe the bottles off so you won’t leave fingerprints on whatever’s about to happen. When nobody’s looking, you saunter down the sidewalk to the end of their driveway. Leave the smokes and bottles where the party crowd will find them when they come out to smoke. Then go sit on your deck and enjoy the show. People puking in the hedge, maybe hurling out the second floor window all down the side of the house. You can hear fighting, stuff breaking, out of towners dragging in stained mattresses at midnight. It’s great.

Bars vs Mom and Pop: I don’t know about other places but in our state a lot of bar owners fought tooth and nail to stop start-up distilleries, and to a lesser extent craft breweries, from selling drinks. Owners in those fledgling businesses had to jump through all manner of hoops. For starters one pub hopeful had to get enough signatures on a petition from local people who lived within a mile of the would-be pub saying that they (the locals) were okay with it. In testimony to the state legislature a start-up distiller pointed out, correctly, that the real problem for a lot of bars was that they’d had the monopoly so long they hadn’t changed how they did business in decades, while their patrons were tired of them and wanted something different.
On a date one night, the wife and I went to a bar for the first time in years. I didn’t stay long because the bartender was whining about the new distillery.  And dissing how they made their gin. As if he made the spirits he poured. The twerp. Perfect oiled beard, twist mustache, and a man-bun. You get the picture.
To be fair, bar licenses are limited-entry, and very expensive when one comes up for sale. The compromise between bars and distiller was that the distillery can sell a maximum of two drinks per customer. They still got a bunch of goofy rules attached like people aren’t supposed to sing in the distillery.

Difference between brandy and cognac: All cognac is brandy. Most brandy isn’t cognac. Brandy can be made any place, from any type of fruit, at any time of the year and it may or may not be aged in barrels.

For brandy to be cognac, it has to be made in the Cognac region of France from particular types of white grapes grown there. The French take this seriously. There are rules for how many times it has to be distilled, how long  it has to sit aging barrels–and they have to be French oak barrels, mon ami. The laws even specify what season of year the distilling has to take place.  Cognac bottles come with a code that indicates how long it was aged. The longer it’s aged, the more expensive. (Aged in the barrel that is. Once it’s bottled the aging pretty much stops.)

VS:               Very Special:  It’s been aged at least two years.
VSOP:          Very Superior Old Pale: Aged four to six years. (very superior seems redundant, doesn’t it?)
Napolean:  Aged six to ten years.
XO:             Extra Old: Aged at least ten years.

For people with too much money, some cognacs cost tens of thousands per bottle. In 2022 drought, the likes of which France hasn’t seen in a thousand years, hammered the grape crop. You’d expect that a few years down the road cognac will be more expensive due to shortages, certainly if the droughts go multiple years.

Neutral spirits: Are a major component of industrial distilling, particularly gin. They are spirits distilled to 95% ABV (alcohol by volume) 190 proof or higher. Neutral flavor. Commonly sold in bulk to smaller distillers who use it as a base for their own products. NS can be made with various agricultural products: beets, potatoes, grapes, and commonly grains  NGS (sometimes called GNS) made from grain. NGS made with corn is the source of Everclear. At the home level, Everclear is banned in some states because it’s so potent it can poison the unwary. Legal in Alaska, it’s used in tinctures, medicinals, bitters, disinfectants, perfumes, cordials, and diluted in punches. Flammable. If you stock some, store this stuff in the shed.