The ‘when’ in this blog series refers to whiskey, its ‘Statements of Age’ and how it’s reflected on the label.
In the United States, a specific statement of age is REQUIRED on the label if the whiskey is less than four years old. This applies also to blends, if the youngest whiskey in the blend is under four years old, there must be an age statement on the label. Age refers to the period of time that distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. This period of time is after distillation and before bottling.
For distilled spirits* the statement of age (whether required or optional) must appear as:
“AGED ____ YEARS” or
“____ YEARS OLD”
(the blank is filled in either with the specific aged year or the age of the youngest distilled spirit in a blend)
For US whiskies* stored in re-used oak, the statement of age (whether required or optional) must appear as:
“_____ STORED _____ YEARS IN REUSED COOPERAGE”
(the first blank is the type/class of spirit, the second blank is the number of years it was stored)
Or if it is a mixture or blend, it is stated this way:
“_____% _________ STORED ______YEARS IN REUSED COOPERAGE”
(the first blank is the % of the finished product contributed by each listed spirit (total must = 100%) the second blank is the class/type and the third blank is the number of years stored in reused oak)
EXAMPLE: Two whiskies distilled from bourbon mash are blended. Both whiskies are less than 4 years old. A statement of age is therefore required on the label. The bottler elects to disclose the age of each whiskey in the blend:
“55% WHISKEY DISTILLED FROM BOURBON MASH STORED 3½ YEARS IN REUSED COOPERAGE
45% WHISKEY DISTILLED FROM BOURBON MASH STORED 2 YEARS IN REUSED COOPERAGE”
For whiskey containing neutral spirits, a statement of age is required and must reference all whiskies contained in the product either:
- Specifically by class/type, e.g., “straight bourbon whiskey,” “rye whiskey,” etc. or
- Generally as “straight whiskey” or “whiskey,” as appropriate. For example, “straight bourbon whiskey” may be identified as “straight whiskey;” “rye whiskey” may be identified as “whiskey”
If one straight whiskey and/or one other whiskey is contained in the product the statement would read:
“_____% STRAIGHT** WHISKEY _____ YEARS OLD” or
“_____% WHISKEY** ____YEARS OLD”
(the first blank is the % of finished product contributed, the second blank is the specific age)
If two or more straight whiskies or two or more other whiskies are contained in the product the label would read:
“____% STRAIGHT WHISKEY**_____ YEARS OLD ____% STRAIGHT WHISKEY** _____ YEARS OLD” and/or
“____% WHISKEY**_____ YEARS OLD ____% WHISKEY ** _____ YEARS OLD”
“____% STRAIGHT WHISKIES _____ YEARS OR MORE OLD” and/or
“____% WHISKIES _____ YEARS OR MORE OLD”
(the first blank is the percentage of the finished product and the second blank is the age of the YOUNGEST whiskey and/or other whiskey in the blend)
EXAMPLE: A blend of straight bourbon whiskey (5%), straight rye whiskey (8%), rye whiskey (10%) and wheat whiskey (12%) are used in the production of a distilled spirits product that also contains neutral spirits. All of the whiskies are less than 4 years old. The required age and percentage statement may appear as:
“5% STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY 2 YEARS OLD
8% STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY 3 YEARS OLD
10% RYE WHISKEY 3½ YEARS OLD
12% WHEAT WHISKEY 3 YEARS OLD”
“13% STRAIGHT WHISKIES 2 YEARS OR MORE OLD
22% WHISKIES 3 YEARS OR MORE OLD”
- Bourbon, rye, wheat, malt and rye whiskies must be aged in a new charred oak container. Straight corn whiskey is stored in a used or uncharred oak container).
- The word ‘old’ or any other word implying age is NOT considered an age reference.
- Age may be UNDERSTATED but NOT OVERSTATED. For example, a straight whiskey aged 59 months may not be overstated as “5 years old” but may be understated as “over 4 years old”.
This blog wraps up my four series label deciphering blog. It’s all very complex. However, I believe having this knowledge, or at least retaining portions of it, makes the trip to the liquor store very interesting and somewhat entertaining.
As to the question of ‘handmade’, I refer back to my first blog in this series and ask the question “What is the definition of hand-crafted?” This is a huge and much discussed question with a broad range of opinions! At Murray’s Fools Distilling Co. we believe it is up to the consumer to decide what they consider to be ‘hand-crafted’.
We also believe that an informed CONSUMER will make a better, informed decision. This four part series is intended to piece together portions of information that will help you understand spirit bottle labels and make educated bottle selections that match your palate and perception of ‘hand-crafted’.
* Other than US whiskey stored in re-used oak or whiskies containing neutral spirits.
** Specific type of whiskey or straight whiskey can be used.
To see the first three blogs in this series follow the links below:
Unlocking the Liquor Bottle Label Language | Part One of Four
Unlocking the Liquor Bottle Label Language | Part Two of Four
Unlocking the Liquor Bottle Label Language | Part Three of Four
To view the TTB’s ‘The Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM)’ CLICK HERE
In this blog I highlight the ‘how’ in relation to the label and how it describes what’s inside. I won’t be going into the depths of how the distilling process works. I will talk about things distillers may do during their processes to make their spirit look a certain way or have a certain flavor.
Again, I want to highlight these things because they not only tell the story of your spirit, but also help you make an informed bottled selection.
Usually, when we talk about color, we’re speaking about brown spirits. These spirits typically develop their colors from the barrel during the aging process.
However, some distillers that produce spirits that don’t age very long may add color in other ways such as through use of caramel or an artificial coloring. This may be specified on the label as such:
“COLORED WITH CARAMEL”
“CERTIFIED COLOR ADDED”
It is important to note that the use or addition of any coloring, flavoring or blending material may change the class of spirit. For example, if FD&C Yellow is added to straight bourbon, the spirit is no longer classed as ‘straight bourbon whiskey’; it becomes a ‘spirits specialty’ class and MUST BE LABELED with a statement such as:
“STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY WITH FD&C YELLOW #5 ADDED”
For this particular addition, it must appear on the FRONT of the label.
There are a few coloring materials considered ‘harmless’ and therefore may be used in a small specified amount without having to appear on the label.
Treatment with Wood:
Another method to add color and taste to a young whisky would be to color and flavor with wood. The wood typically is in the form of chips, slabs or extracts.
If this method is used, a statement something like this is required to appear on the FRONT of the label:
“COLORED AND FLAVORED WITH WOOD CHIPS”
This applies only to whisky and brandy treated with wood (other than the contact with their oak aging barrels) at ANY POINT during the production and storage process and up to and including the time of bottling.
Flavoring materials can include anything from essential oils to herbs, spices and fruit juices. However, all flavoring materials used in alcoholic beverages must be approved by or affirmed as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by FDA.
In addition for labeling purposes, all flavoring materials are categorized as ALL NATURAL or NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL or ALL ARTIFICIAL.
Blending materials include wine and sugar. Different rules apply to different spirits with regard to what volume used would be considered ‘harmless’.
Harmless coloring, flavoring and blending materials are any materials that are an essential component of the particular class/type of distilled spirit or any materials that are not essential but are customarily used and do not exceed 2.5% by volume of the finished product.
There is a great chart in the Department of the Treasury Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau’s (TTB) ‘The Beverage and Alcohol Manual (BAM). Follow this link to see the chart online: Use of Harmless Coloring/Flavoring/Blending Materials.
This chart describes:
If you missed the first two blogs, or want to refresh your memory, you can check them out here:
Unlocking the Liquor Bottle Label Language | Part One of Four
Unlocking the Liquor Bottle Label Language | Part Two of Four
Watch for the next blog, ‘The When’, where I’ll talk a little bit about the aging process of a spirit.
Part Two of Four: The WHAT?
The TTB mandatory label information includes 15 different items as listed in the Beverage Alcohol Manual Table of Contents. In this four-part blog series I skim the surface of some of these, providing an overview of some of the things you will see on your liquor bottle label and what they could mean.
For the ‘What’ aspect of this series I’m touching on ‘Class and Type’, ‘Alcohol Content’,’ Net Contents’ and ‘Commodity Statement’. There are a few other topics that could be considered a ‘What’ such as ‘Presence of Coloring Materials’ however I feel these become more of the ‘How’ and will speak more about them later in my upcoming ‘How’ blog.
1. Class and Type Designation
This is the identity of the distilled spirit and must appear on the FRONT of the bottle.
The alcoholic beverage category of distilled spirits is divided into a number of general but defined classes, e.g. “Neutral Spirits or Alcohol” and “Gin”.
Below are a few selections I pulled from the TTB chart that categorizes and broadly defines classes and types. Not every option is shown,I’ve listed common and notable spirits. If you want to check out the full list, here is a link for the chart on the TTB website: CLASS AND TYPE DESIGNATION
* Within this class you also have many other versions of these types that include Straight, Distilled from Mash, Light and several Blended versions.
^ Rye, bourbon, rum, or brandy liquor produced using rock candy or sugar syrup.
** Flavored must be indicated on the label, however infused and flavored are not the same thing.
Some examples of required class and type statement are:
Would be on the label for a whisky produced in the US, not exceeding 80% ABV from fermented mash no less than 51% corn, stored at no more than 62.5% ABV in new charred oak barrels.
“STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY”
Would be on the label for a Bourbon whiskey stored in charred new oak barrels for 2 yrs. or more. It may include mixtures of two or more straight bourbon whiskies as long as they are made in the same state.
“WHISKY FROM BOURBON MASH”
Would be on the label for a whisky produced in the US, not exceeding 80% ABV from fermented mash no less than 51% corn, stored used charred oak barrels.
2. Alcohol Content
Alcohol content must be indicated on the FRONT of the label and stated in % alcohol by volume, i.e.
40% Alc. by Vol.
Alcohol proof can also be shown in addition to the required ABV statement but must appear on the front with the ABV statement:
40% Alc. by Vol. – 80 Proof
3. Net Contents
It is a requirement that you can see from the label or the bottle the net contents. Distilled spirits must be bottled, packed or filled in a metric standard of fill. This requirement must be shown on the label and/or blown into the glass of the bottle and must be stated as one of these amounts:
4. Commodity Statement
It is a requirement for the label to tell you the percentage of neutral spirits and what the neutral spirits were distilled from. For neutral spirits, vodka, grain spirits and gin produced by original distillation the percentage part is not required.
So - somewhere on your label (it’s not required to be on the front) you would see something like this:
“100% NEUTRAL SPIRITS DISTILLED FROM CORN” or
“100% GRAIN NEUTRAL SPIRITS”
OR if produced by original distillation:
“DISTILLED FROM RYE”
As you can see so far from Part One and Part Two you can really learn the story of your bottle, building a relationship with what you’re drinking by deciphering the details on the label! Stay tuned for Part Three ‘The How’.
What is the definition of hand-crafted? That is a big, and much discussed, question lately! At Murray’s Fools Distilling Co. we are on the side of the fence that believes it is up to the consumer to decide what they consider to be ‘hand-crafted’.
We also believe that an informed CONSUMER will make a better informed decision. I put together my own interpretation of some basic criteria that may help you, the consumer, determine your own judgment and make an educated bottle selection that matches your palate and perception of ‘hand-crafted’.
In this four-part blog series, I will discuss the basics of the Who, What, Where and When of a spirit bottle label.
PART ONE: The Who and Where
Where is your bottle of spirits actually from?
This can be a complicated and interesting question. According to the Department of the Treasury Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) a DOMESTIC distilled spirit IS REQUIRED to have the name (s) and address (es) of who put the alcohol in the bottle AND/OR who made the alcohol. This can create many different label options DEPENDING on several variables. For example for contract bottling there are five different ways to define the ‘where’ on the label!
In this blog I will cover just the general label requirements because things get really involved especially when it comes to spirits like whiskey.
So what does this actually mean?
1. This means that a product could be distilled at the ABC Co., in Indiana for example, and then shipped to and bottled at XYZ Co. in Maine for instance.
Which could read something like this on the label:
“BOTTLED BY XYZ CO., HOMETOWN, MAINE, USA” Or, “DISTILLED BY ABC CO., BIGTOWN, INDIANA, USA”
This is an AND/OR requirement. So for example, if the label says where it’s bottled it is not required to say where it was distilled, which means if it doesn’t say, the spirit may not have been produced by the same company that bottled it, likewise if it only says where it was distilled it may have been transported and bottled somewhere else.
2. If a product was distilled and bottled by the same company, like we do at Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., then the label could read like this:
“DISTILLED AND BOTTLED AT XYZ DISTILLERY”
This means all the work is performed and completed at the same location displayed on the bottle. If it is an aged spirit then it is also usually aged at the same place too.
3. A spirit could also be imported.
Imported distilled spirits Can be bottled, packed or filled prior to or after importation.
If imported after bottling, the name and address of the importer must appear on the label along with an explanatory phrase, such as “IMPORTED BY”. In this case a label may look something like this:
“IMPORTED BY ABC IMPORTS”
If imported prior to bottling, and the spirits are bottled in the U.S., the company name would appear with an explanatory phrase, such as ‘IMPORTED BY’ and would look something like this:
“IMPORTED BY ABC IMPORTS AND BOTTLED BY XYZ SPIRITS CO.”
Regardless of indicating bottler or distiller the label must display the name and the address (city and state) of where the company displayed is located, including country if imported.
These items are required regardless of size of distillery or production. I’ve mentioned these examples only to show that they are not a key element in determining your ‘hand-crafted’ or ‘not-handcrafted’ conclusion.
Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., located in Altona, is the first distillery operating in Clinton County, New York since Prohibition. As a new business in an industry historically shrouded in legal and political ups and downs, I thought it would be interesting and entertaining to see who was operating in the area before us.
When we began our adventure I did some quick research to see who the movers and shakers in the distilling world were during the last couple of centuries. In my first shallow dig I found…nothing. Finding it hard to believe we were the first ever legal distillery in the area, I sought out resources that could help me dig deeper and, sure enough, once I found a couple of breadcrumbs I was on my way to discovering some interesting facts about distilling in Clinton County pre-pro!
I found a few not so prominent characters such as Mr. WM Flack who operated right next door to Colonel Fillimore’s Tavern located in Chazy Village, and who, in the early 1800’s, was trying to sell his brewery and distillery ‘…very cheap’ as advertised in the Plattsburgh Republican.
Another gentleman, James Kennedy of Plattsburgh Distillery, was seen regularly advertising in the Plattsburgh Republican in the mid-1800s. Kennedy offered quarts of whiskey in exchange for bushels of rye and corn.
There was even rumored to be a man named Joseph Blanchard who was arrested in 1899 in Churubusco for having an illegal distillery hidden in his house, known as the "Old Martin Homestead". It was said that his distillery was capable of turning out four barrels of whiskey a day and that local detectives had been watching the man suspiciously for 15 years.
The most recognized distillery of note however was Isaac Merkel & Sons. Merkel ran both a brewery and a distillery which made whiskey. Their flagship brand was called "Bachelor Rye," named for his son Aaron. Other brands included "Clinton County Club," Wedding Bouquet," and "Wedding Bouquet Pure Rye." Merkel operated facilities in both Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake, and was in business roughly from 1878 until the start of Prohibition, c. 1919.
Merkel and his wife set out for the United States from Germany in 1867 and settled in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York. He first worked as a peddler as he and his wife started their family of five children. Later, he established a brewery, a distillery and distributorship, and ultimately a department store.
His son, David, was listed as his partner in the whiskey business, Isaac Merkel & Sons. A 1913 Plattsburgh city directory lists them as “rectifiers and wholesale liquor dealers, bottlers and jobbers in cigars.” Their plant and office was at 56-50 Bridge St. and their retail store at 22-24 Bridge.
“The craft distillery industry is booming”, is often heard these days. I’ve seen this statement in many a blog, news article and PR piece over the last few years and it still rings true.
Living in the Capital Region of New York, I’ve seen this boom directly represented in the area’s liquor stores, both large and small.
In my local shopping experience I’ve seen NY liquor selections include everything from small batch vodka to craft rye whiskey, artisan rum and handcrafted bourbon. ‘Buying Local’ liquor is now even closer to home with so many choices becoming available within counties and even cities. The 90 or so small batch New York craft distilleries are located all over the state, from the very top near the Canadian border to the south in Brooklyn. The reach is far, and the growth tremendous.
This ‘boom’ provides liquor stores an entirely new category for their selection and a good percentage of them are enjoying the results of taking advantage of the rise in local options.
This new ‘local craft beverages’ category benefits the craft distillers, the discerning public and the liquor stores.
This NY Capital Region liquor store created an amazing display dedicated to locally produced small batch craft spirits. As soon as you walk in the door of All Star Liquor in Latham, NY you are greeted immediately with New York small batch vodka, craft rye whiskey, artisan rum, handcrafted bourbon and more.
In my Capital Region observations, our liquor stores all have their own unique and different ways of presenting their New York state spirits. Some will mix the New York spirits on the shelves among all other options, others will have a specific shelf or display dedicated to locally produced bottles, and others will have a mixture of both.
My favorite style of presentation that I’ve witnessed in both large and small stores is a ‘Buy Local’ display that is located immediately on entry to the store. Some stores will also offer tastings and seminars from local distillers, where the drinking public has the opportunity to ‘meet the maker’.
For you, as the ‘buy local’ consumer, the key is to ask. If you’re interested in supporting local craft spirit distillers, definitely ask a liquor store staff member, they are typically very knowledgeable and want to help you find something you will enjoy. It is also helpful to the local distillery for you to ask and encourage more liquor stores to offer local options.
Think New York. Drink New York.
Small craft distilleries are popping up in unexpected places all over the U.S.! There is currently at least one craft distillery located in every state, with approximately 1,280 total craft spirit producers on record in 2015. There are many reasons to purchase a craft distiller's small batch vodka, craft bourbon or handmade gin, but here are my top five.
This article is intended for those who are of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly.
In March 2015, Randall and I decided to stop just dipping our toes in the entrepreneurial water and took the dive into the deep end and started our adventure into the business of craft distilling.
After making the commitment to become distillers, the fun began! From determining our brand identity to re-purposing an entire workshop, the work has been rewarding and interesting.
One year later, at the very end of March 2016, we had our walls built, equipment in place and federal and state licenses in hand! We are ready to start distilling!
This video is of our first year of business which included construction, license applications, equipment purchases and over 300 hours of mostly weekend team work. All of this wild ride wrapped up into 3 mins. and 15 secs.!
Over the past decade there has been a huge cocktail renaissance. With this mixology reawakening, we now have a surplus of information in the form of books, blogs and websites.
In the beginning of this resurgence the information was still a little limited and resources were scant. The cocktail world went from 0-60 on the ‘access to information’ scale. This rapid ramp up has its ups and downs. On one hand, you now have access to a lot of very specific information about techniques, equipment, famous bartenders and bars, both vintage and contemporary cocktails, spirit specific drinks, historical chronicles and so on. On the other hand, all this information can be overwhelming and have you wondering ‘what is the BEST information?’ and ‘how do I choose?’.
I recently visited a local bookstore and the section on cocktails was HUGE! I usually peruse and then decide what I want to purchase now and/or later. Within minutes I found myself juggling at least four new books I was interested in; a book all about Shrubs, another on bitters and an Amari guide, one about cocktails with a literary twist and another about infusing… I wanted them all! So I jot down my list and ask friends and family if they’ve read any and look at reviews. My advice to you is to go with your gut. You are the only person who truly knows what you like and what you really enjoy. Reading is a subjective experience after all!
However, if you are interested in some reviews and/or recommendations, I am happy to share a few of my (recent) favorites.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
By Ted Haigh
This book is great for planning parties!
Favorite things about this book:
The Drunken Botanist
By Amy Stewart
This book is for learning and creating!
I really enjoyed this book because:
By David Wondrich
A book from a master to increase your knowledge and be the life of the cocktail party!
In homage to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, pioneer of the American bar, this book delves into the little-known history of the great classic American cocktails.
What I love about this book:
Tea Cocktails: A Mixologist’s Guide to Legendary Tea-Infused Cocktails
By Abigail R. Gehring
A book for entertaining on porches and patios!
I loved this book last year and just took it off the shelf and dusted it off in preparation of ‘porch weather’!
This book I loved because:
The only complaint I have about this book is that it is very heavy on the Teatulia Organic Teas and tea flavors and terms info. However, it is produced by them with the author so despite all the additional (and for me unnecessary information) I made some amazing tea cocktails last summer and am looking forward to making many more this year!
What’s on my wishlist?
Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times
A book all about the vintage drink mixer - Shrubs.
In fact I think I’ll visit my local bookstore right after I post this blog!
We learned a lot of very cool things from our craft distillation class instructor, Master Distiller Rusty Figgins, but one of the intriguing things of note was that distillery stills are traditionally christened with feminine names.
We have had a lot of serious support from both of our mothers. It didn’t take a lot of thinking to decide to name our stills after them. We are both so thankful for this support and all the encouragement they have given us to get us started!
These two women have been tremendously supportive throughout the entire process (even though I think deep down they think we’re totally nuts to be doing this) and because of this we have decided to christen our stills ‘Lois Ann’ in deep admiration of Randall’s mother and ‘Barbara Ann’ in profound appreciation of Sarah’s mum.
Co-founder of Murray's Fools Distilling Co. | Altona, NY