Monday, January 15, 2007

Spirits That Americans Shouldn't Do

Reading Eric Felten's piece on The Malts of America in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, I was left with one question:

Vodka is fast, but whiskey takes time -- and, as old Ben once sagely observed, time is money. The biggest challenge for the small craft distillers tackling whiskey may not be in making a drinkable spirit, but in finding the cash needed to keep it in barrels for the years it takes to mature.

"I remember sitting down with my wife and saying, 'We'll spend $60- or $70,000 and after 10 years we might start getting some of it back,'" says Richard Pelletier, who owns the Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, Mass. "At least the kids are young," he joked with his wife, "so at the very least, years from now we can have an open bar at their weddings." The first barrels of Nashoba single-malt whiskey were distilled in 2001 and are still aging. Mr. Pelletier keeps the oldest barrel in his living room, where he can easily steal tastes and keep tabs on its progress.

Nantucket Spirits, which has been sailing along with sales of its Triple Eight Vodka, also has a Scotch-style single malt in dunnage. Called "Notch" (for "Not Scotch"), the whiskey was first distilled in 2000 and may finally get released later this year. Nantucket Spirits financed its whiskey experiment by selling cask futures -- a cash-flow technique that Scottish start-ups have been using as well. New American single-malt whiskeys are also in the works at Oregon's House Spirits and Ohio's Woodstone Creek Spirits.

Why? Why American Scotch? Are there not more than enough fine Scotches coming out of Scotland already? Doesn't America already have its own proud and distinct whiskey tradition?

Every region, nee every community should have breweries that produce unique beers with a touch of local flavor. And the expansion of wine-making to new areas of the globe in recent years should be celebrated. But when it comes to spirits, especially spirits so tied to a country such as Scotch, it would be better to leave good enough alone.

Leave the Tequila-making to Mexico. Leave the gin to the Brits. The cognac to the French (and Armenians). Most of all, leave the Scotch to the Scots.

1 comment:

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