Authors Posts by Geoff Kleinman

Geoff Kleinman

+Geoff Kleinman, is the founder, and managing editor of He is a nationally recognized spirits columnist, a reviewer for Whisky Advocate Magazine and has contributed to Playboy Magazine. Geoff is Bar Certified with the Beverage Alcohol Resource Group, has judged many major spirits and cocktail competitions and is a Kentucky Colonel.

Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey
Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey

Brown Forman has been extremely patient and deliberate with their Woodford Reserve brand. Outside Woodford’s annual Master’s Collection, the brand has only added one product innovation to its core lineup: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Whiskey. Now, Woodford is adding a third product to the Woodford line with Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It’s no surprise to see Brown Forman jump on the American Rye Whiskey train as it’s been an extremely hot growth sector of the whiskey category, and other brands like Bulleit have seen immense success with expanding their offerings to include rye.

This isn’t the first time that Woodford has played around with rye. In 2011,  Distiller Chris Morris featured two 100% rye releases as part of his Master’s Collection, one aged in new American cask and the other in an ex-bourbon barrel. Morris’ experience working with a 100% rye mashbill (which he’s recounted as nothing short of a nightmare) must have informed his decision to go with a lower rye content for this product at 53% rye (53% rye, 14% malt and 33% corn).

As with the traditional Woodford Reserve Whiskey, the new rye is a marriage of aged whiskey made at the Brown Forman Distillery along with whiskey made on the pot stills at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Although there is no age statement on the bottle, as a Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey it must be at least 4 years old (which lines up well with when Morris was experimenting with rye for the Master’s Collection).

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (45.2% ABV, 90.4 Proof, $37.99) – dark gold in color, the new Woodford Rye leads with a nose that features very clear and pleasant rye spice. Accompanying the rye is caramel, cinnamon, ginger, dried cherry, oak, and cardboard. It’s a well integrated and balanced nose that delivers enough spice to let you know what you’re in for, but not so much to be brash or overly assertive.

The entry for Woodford Rye is bursting with flavor. The rye spice from the nose is immediately there on the palate, and it’s joined by cereal grains, corn, dried cherries, and caramel. This whiskey is quite dry in character and even the grain notes here read as dried grain. There’s just enough of a sweet undertone to create some semblance of balance.

In the midpalate there’s a strong shift from grain towards spice with rye spice, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and oak all in full throttle.  All this spice is accompanied by a solid dash of heat,  which compliments the spice.  As with the rest of the taste experience, the finish is very dry and is centered around the spice from the midpalate.

The decision to use less rye in the mashbill doesn’t detract from what Woodford seems to be going for: a rye expression that is still very clearly Woodford Reserve. Fans of the classic Woodford Reserve will find many familiar flavors and some common character with the rye. Given how dry it is, and its structure, the Woodford Rye plays nicely into Woodford’s drive to closely associate themselves with the Manhattan cocktail. It’s great that Brown Forman stuck to their guns with Woodford Reserve Rye and produced something that clearly belongs in the Woodford family, rather than just trying to case the rye market.  86 Points.

Ultimate Spirits Challenge
Ultimate Spirits Challenge

I’ve had the pleasure, and the challenge, to be involved with a number of major spirits competitions in my career. Often, I look forward to them with a combination of excitement and dread. I’m always excited at the opportunity to taste side by side with some of the industry’s luminaries and help accolade some of the world’s best spirits. However, I often dread the Herculean task of nearly drowning in spirits with flight after flight of spirits.

For many years the main competition I judged was the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. In 2012, I ended my tenure with them (at the same time I stopped writing for The Tasting Panel Magazine), over deep concerns over the ethics of the publisher of the magazine (who also runs the competition). Spirits competitions are only as good as the people who run them, so if a medal is ever going to mean anything, it has to come from someone who people can trust.

This year I had the pleasure to judge the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Located in Hawthorne, New York (about an hour train ride from New York City), Ultimate Spirits Challenge is housed in a tasting center built from the ground up for the specific purpose of housing beverage competitions. Conceived by the legendary F. Paul Pacult, Ultimate Spirits Challenge takes decades of experience and learnings in the competition space and builds on them to create one of the smartest, well constructed, and perfectly executed spirits competitions.

A Flight at Ultimate Spirits Challenge
A Flight at Ultimate Spirits Challenge

Unlike most spirits competitions which are adjunct to a conference or festival, Ultimate Spirits Challenge is part of a series of competitions under the Ultimate Beverage Challenge umbrella. At this point the competitions cover spirits, cocktails, and wine, but there are discussions about future expansions to other beverage categories.

One of the things that makes the Ultimate Spirits Challenge unique is that it does not just take place over a weekend. Spirit groupings are split into two day rounds, with several rounds scheduled throughout the year. This means that judges get to spend more concentrated time on smaller flights of spirits, and the competition is less an exercise in palate endurance and more a qualitative analysis of the spirits being judged.

Small Flights Equal Better Results
Small Flights Equal Better Results

Also, unlike most spirits competitions, Ultimate Spirits Challenge doesn’t give out medals; instead, each spirit gets a unique score (on the classic 100 point scale) as well as detailed tasting notes from the judges. Many spirits competitions team judges into groups of four (or more), but at the Ultimate Spirits Competition, each team consists of two people. I found this to be exceptionally more effective and as a whole we spent much less time waxing poetic about what we were tasting, and much more time on the sensory analysis and spirits evaluation.

The mix of judges also sets Ultimate Spirits Challenge apart. For the round I judged (which included American Whiskies, Rum, Pisco, Sloe Gin, and Coffee Liqueurs), I was paired with the legendary Dale DeGroff. Other judges in this round included such industry luminaries as Willie Shine, Tad Carducci, Dan Nicolaescu, Doug Miller, James Conley, Francis Schott, and of course, F. Paul Pacult. By drawing from a diverse cross section from the spirits industry, the Ultimate Spirits Challenge represents a diverse number of perspectives and disciplines.

As I compared notes with Dale DeGroff, I found that many of my comments were focused on the structure and character of a spirit while Dale’s were focused on flavor and mix-ability. This ended up being an ideal combination where our two styles lined up to give a complete picture of each spirit.

Another element that makes the Ultimate Spirits Challenge unique is the companion cocktail element to the competition. All of the major spirits that we evaluated neat were also evaluated in a benchmark cocktail (i.e. Daiquiri or Manhattan). It was clear that some of the spirits performed much differently in the cocktails.

Ultimately, the thing that makes Ultimate Spirits Challenge so relevant is that it’s run by people who deeply understand spirits. By lessening the load in each round for judges and giving them more time to focus on fewer spirits, the results are much better. Also by giving scores with notes rather than medals, the real cream rises to the crop, unlike many competitions which are simply medal factories, with a majority getting “gold” or “double gold”.

Results for the 2015 Ultimate Spirits Challenge have begun to roll out from the first few rounds, with complete results posted on the Ultimate Beverage site.

Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine
Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine

Not every spirit we receive has a deep back story attached to it, and many readers have requested that we try to cover more products that cross our desk. To do this, we’re trying out a shorter form review. This won’t supplant our long form, analytical reviews for landmark products, but it should enable us to cover more ground and give you more intelligence on more products.

The first of these products is Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine. It has debuted at the Ole Smoky Distillery and is set to roll out nationally in the middle of this year. We’ve covered Ole Smoky pretty extensively, including behind the scenes and a detailed look at their aged product Ole Smoky Charred Moonshine (with a musing on how they keep up with all their sales volumes). Now, Ole Smoky has a product that’s aimed at delivering on the moonshine promise, with solid flavor, combining sugar and corn, and delivered at a high proof.

Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine (64% ABV, 128 proof, $34.95) – this is a sugar wash moonshine where the leftover corn mash from corn whiskey has sugar added to it, then it’s fermented and distilled.  Yeasty ground corn on the nose with white pepper, and apple blossom. Fewer edges on the nose than you’d expect for this proof. Soft, round, and sweet entry with vanilla, sugar cane, and yeasty cornbread. Midpalate is a big pepper kick with white and black pepper and a solid dash of heat. There’s a sharp punch at the end of the midpalate, but it’s purposeful and pleasant. The heat and spice drive a dry a finish on a spirit that drinks more like you’d expect a moonshine to taste: sweet and corny with a nice punch. Ole Smoky is initially selling their Blue Flame in their Gatlinburg, TN store “The Holler” with plans of launching in nationally in mid 2015.  83 points.

Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine is a good indicator that the moonshine space will continue to grow and flourish, and that there’s room for innovation, outside the flavored moonshine space.

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye
Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye

The boom in American Whiskey has really happened on two fronts, bourbon and rye whiskey. While Jim Beam has clearly benefited from the boom in bourbon, they haven’t had the same kind of traction in the rye space as some of their competitors, namely Bulleit Rye. It hasn’t been for lack of trying – Jim Beam has a wide range of rye offerings, from the higher end Knob Creek Rye to the value focused Old Overholt and Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (aka Jim Beam Yellow Label). Then there’s (ri)1, a product that had its debut long before rye whiskey boomed, and somehow got left behind.

In an effort to refresh their core rye brand, Jim Beam has reformulated and repackaged their Jim Beam Rye Whiskey as Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye. In addition to a new package, the new Jim Beam Rye has a new recipe, a boost in proof (90 proof versus 80), and a small bump in price. There’s still no age statement on the label, but as a Kentucky Straight Whiskey it must be at least 4 years old.

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye (45% ABV, 90 Proof, $22.99) – light amber in color, the nose is a good mix of oak and rye spice along with a subtle undercurrent of caramel. There’s a slight green quality to the rye here, more rye grain than rye bread. The entry for Jim Beam Rye is much softer and sweeter than the nose would suggest, with caramel and vanilla at the opening accompanied by roasted cashew nuts. The rye and oak spice from the nose present well in the midpalate where they integrate with the underlying sweet caramel. Towards the end of the midpalate things start drying out and the oak steps forward over the rye. Again, we get a little nuttiness. The finish is medium length and fairly dry with light rye notes lingering on the palate.

The proofing here is spot on, supporting the flavor experience without adding too much fire, and the finish is pretty dry, something that many consumers seem to gravitate towards. There’s enough structure with Jim Beam Rye for mixing, which is is probably the most common way this will be consumed. While it’s not the blockbuster rye that Jim Beam’s Knob Creek Rye is, this Pre-Prohibition Style Rye wears its Jim Beam DNA pretty proudly and delivers a pleasant but not overly challenging taste experience.

Over the past few years, Jim Beam has done a fantastic job of focusing on their core brand: they’ve brought flavored in from the Red Stagg brand into their core, added whiskey innovations like Devil’s Cut and Jacob’s Ghost, shown their abilities with the Jim Beam Signature Craft series, and demonstrated that the Jim Beam brand means quality as much as value with their Jim Beam Single Barrel. Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye is another solid step forward for Jim Beam into the realm of affordable, quality spirits. While they may not be able to woo Bulleit Rye drinkers, this Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye provides an ideal stepping stone for core Jim Beam fans into the world of rye, and it provides a solid taste experience at an affordable price. That’s always been the promise of American Whiskey and the promise is fulfilled here. 84 points.

Mellow Corn Whiskey
Mellow Corn Whiskey

It’s really no surprise that, with such fervent frenzy among consumers over the high end of the American whiskey market,  a whiskey from the low end of the spectrum would emerge with some solid buzz. This is the case for Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Mellow Corn Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey, which sells for a whopping $12. Mellow Corn is one of those brands that has been around forever (the bottle bears the copyright from 1945), but has been hiding in plain sight, along such heritage brands as Old Crow, Old Overholt, and Old Grand-Dad. These whiskeys are often found on the bottom shelf of a liquor store’s whiskey section and often sell for under $15.

With bottles of American Whiskey fetching jaw dropping prices at auction, it’s easy to forget that most American Whiskey used to be found in the low end, low price section. It wasn’t until Buffalo Trace released the first single barrel release in 1984 (Blanton’s Single Barrel) that the whole high end of the American Whiskey market was really established. One of the things that’s really helped the American Whiskey segment be so successful is that it has historically had an exceptional price-to-quality ratio. You can find high quality whiskeys, affordable enough to drink on a regular basis, including Wild Turkey 101, Maker’s Mark, Larceny, and Bulleit Straight Rye.

Mellow Corn Straight Kentucky Corn Whiskey is kind of an oddball entry in the American Whiskey space. There are a few true corn whiskeys out there (including most notably Finger Lake Distilling’s Glen Thunder and Balcones Baby Blue Whiskey) but the majority of them are being sold as Moonshine. As with bourbon, there are fairly strict rules on what you can call corn whiskey: it must be made of at least 80% corn and aged in non-charred or used barrels. If you age that corn whiskey for 2 or more years you can call it “Straight Corn Whiskey”, and if you take the additional step of bottling it “in Bond” then it needs to be at 100 proof / 50 % ABV and at least four years old.

Mellow Corn Straight Kentucky Corn Whiskey (100 proof, 50% ABV, $12) – pale gold in color, this whiskey is considerably lighter in color than most other whiskeys this age, mainly because it’s been aged in used barrels. The nose on the Mellow Corn is anything but mellow – at first nosing it’s spicy and vapory, clearly showing off its proof. Once you get past this initial blast, the nose is very corn focused with caramel corn combining with cinnamon, oak, and green apple.

The entry for Mellow Corn is slightly less fiery than the nose, but it’s still quite spicy, combining a core of sweet corn with apple, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. At the start, Mellow Corn has a nice weighty mouth feel, which transitions as we get to the midpalate where things quickly dry up. In the midpalate the level of heat and spice really ramp up and you get strong black pepper, oak, and cinnamon. In the midpalate we also get a blast of heat, again showing off the fact that we’re at a solid proof. The finish for Mellow Corn is dry and edgy with a faint hint of corn and a slightly bitter charred note.

Mellow Corn Whiskey isn’t some hidden gem or diamond in the rough. It isn’t going to win in a head-to-head tasting with something like Wild Turkey 101. What it is, is a novelty, a very low priced, heritage brand that delivers a huge punch of heat with some nice corn flavor and spice. This is the kind of cheap whiskey that you throw back with a crappy light beer in a hipstery “dive bar” and talk about the good ole days – you know, the 90s.  77 points.

DeLeón Tequila
DeLeón Tequila

Trying to catch lightning in a bottle in the spirits industry is nearly impossible. What worked once for one segment of the industry often doesn’t work in another. This is one of the many challenges facing Sean “Diddy” Combs (aka P. Diddy, Puff Daddy), Diageo, and their co-operative new brand, DeLeón Tequila. Together Combs and Diageo have achieved meteoric success with Ciroc Vodka. In an ocean of failed celebrity spirits, Ciroc stands as an anomaly: an unmitigated success which has found a home not only with Diddy’s core fan base, but also with drinkers who may not even know ‘whose daddy this puff character is’. Although Ciroc and Combs are intimately intertwined, the Ciroc Vodka brand has succeeded in having its own life and identity, one which could arguably survive with or without Combs’ involvement.

The thing about success in spirits is, once you achieve it, there’s a lot of pressure to try to repeat that success. It’s very similar to a musical artist who has a smash hit debut album, and then suffers immense pressure to prove that it wasn’t some sort of fluke. Sophomore efforts are incredibly tough, because often the environment that surrounded a debut effort simply doesn’t exist anymore. Can a musician really crone about heartache and failure when no Saturday night is complete without bottle service? Now that Diageo and Combs are riding high on Ciroc Vodka, can they start again and build a new tequila brand from the ground up?

While DeLeón Tequila isn’t a brand-new brand, it’s pretty close. Prior to its acquisition, DeLeón existed primarily as a relatively small tequila brand known for astronomically expensive tequila. Combs and Diageo have taken this existing line of tequila and rebranded it as the DeLeón Luxury Line, which includes: DeLeón Diamante ($150), a joven tequila which is a blend of anejo and blanco tequila; DeLeón Extra Anejo ($350), a cask strength tequila (108 proof, 54% AVB) aged for 36 months; and, DeLeón Leóna ($850), a private reserve anejo tequila finished in French Sauternes casks.

While DeLeón’s Diamante is expensive, it’s not completely out of the stratosphere, given Casa Dragones is $299 and Patron “Gran Platinum” Tequila is $250. Prices on DeLeón Extra Anejo and Leóna, however, are pretty hard to swallow. An $850 tequila, in this phase of the tequila market, is nothing short of ridiculous, especially when you consider one of the finest anejos in the world, Tres Quatro Cinco Tequila Anejo, and even Patron’s Gran Patron Piedra Tequila, top out in high $300, low $400 range.

Recognizing that the market for ultra expensive (or more tastefully titled “luxury”) tequilas is limited, Diageo and Combs have expanded DeLeón’s offerings with three more traditional tequilas under the DeLeón Ultra-Premium line: DeLeón Platinum ($60), Reposado ($65), and Anejo ($70). Although the line is considerably less expensive than DeLeón Luxury line, it’s still well above the core offerings of other key competitors in the space including, most notably, Patron and Tequila Avion.

The first of the new DeLeón Ultra-Premium Line of tequilas to launch is DeLeón Platinum Tequila. Officially launched in November 2014, DeLeón Platinum is a blanco tequila presented a perfume-like bottle similar to the ones used in DeLeón’s Luxury line. DeLeón is using a less expensive glass and a plastic top (versus the Luxury’s metal tops).

Deleon Platinum Tequila
DeLeon Platinum Tequila

DeLeón Platinum Tequila (NOM 1535, 40% ABV, 80 proof, $60) – the nose is very representative of a highland (Los Altos) tequila, with soft pepper and roasted agave. In the center of this is light lime peel. The entry for DeLeón Platinum is soft and lightly sweet with vanilla and roasted agave combined with some nice black pepper to really balance things out. The black pepper spice ramps up into the midpalate where it’s joined by cinnamon and lime peel. For the most part, the midpalate does a nice job of presenting this intensified spice while still maintaining the undercurrent of the sweet roasted agave.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the midpalate things take an unpleasant turn. All the sweet and affable notes established from the opening completely drop off, and the the pepper spice is considerably dialed back. What we’re left with is an overly dry and fairly acidic finish with lime and eucalyptus, absent of many of the enjoyable flavor notes established in this tequila.

When you put it in context, the finish isn’t a complete surprise. DeLeón Platinum has clearly been crafted to lure premium vodka drinkers over to the premium tequila space. It’s a smart move as an increasing number of premium vodka drinkers have become disenfranchised as they’ve seen the equity in calling out premium vodka brands really erode. Unfortunately, with their Platinum, DeLeón has unnecessarily mortgaged a good tequila experience in favor of luring new customers. The ultimate cost may be in the longevity of keeping those new customers once they start really exploring the tequila space and discover offerings with more complete flavor experiences. 80 points.

DeLeón Reposado Tequila
DeLeón Reposado Tequila

DeLeón Reposado Tequila (NOM 1535, 40% ABV, 80 proof, $65). Pale gold in color, DeLeón’s reposado tequila is aged conventionally in American Oak and then finished in French Oak casks. On the nose the presence of the French Oak cask aging is unmistakable, with strong sawdust combining with light dill, caramel, roasted agave, oak, and black pepper. The wood from the nose is immediately presented on the palate in the entry with sawdust and oak combined with roasted agave and black pepper. The sawdust note subsides, giving way to a nice mix of cinnamon, caramel, roasted agave, black pepper, and oak. As with DeLeón Platinum, the reposado does a good job of balancing and integrating the sweet and spicy flavors. Also like Platinum, the reposado takes the same sharp left turn at the end of the midpalate. All the nice established flavors get the boot and all we are left with is a puckeringly dry and fairly vacuous finish.

It’s a real shame, since combining both French and American Oak does net some really nice flavors for DeLeón’s reposado, but again, they are mortgaged for a finish that’s just too dry, too neutral, and too discordant with the rest of the tequila’s taste experience. 80 points.

From a liquid point of view, DeLeón Tequila does fall short of what we’d expect from tequila at this price point, but this isn’t a brand that will win or lose on the quality of its liquid alone. The tequila market is ripe for an explosion. Diageo knows this, and it’s why they’ve given away Bushmills, an amazing brand in the Irish Whiskey space, a blockbuster category, to fully own Don Julio Tequila. It’s the same reason they picked up Peligroso Tequila and are doing this 50/50 split with Combs on DeLeón.

Unlike whiskey, where brands have been able to attract new consumers with flavored offerings, tequila hasn’t had a single flavored offering that’s resonated with consumers in any way. The strategy that seems to have more traction is to attract consumers over to agave with soft, mellow, and generally restrained expressions. Some may call it the dumbing down of tequila, but like the flavored whiskey space, it provides a drawbridge to consumers who never thought of themselves as a fan of the category.

Tequila also still seems to carry some of the baggage from the old Jose Cuervo Mixto days. Many still wrongly associate drinking tequila with a major hangover the next day. This class of crossover tequila is cut down far enough that traditional vodka drinkers are more likely to have a more positive experience with it. For many, this will be a revelation, and a reason to swap tequila in for the falling out of fashion vodka.

Having both Diageo and Sean Combs behind DeLeón is a huge advantage. Combs is still very much an all-star when it comes to the spirits space, but he’s about to find out that tequila is a much tougher sell than vodka ever was. The net effect, though, should be very positive for the tequila category in general, especially if Combs is successful in preaching the gospel of agave as something that’s as fun and ‘clean’ as vodka. The big question is, will DeLeón be able to hold on to those crossover consumers once they’re sold on tequila?

Read our Interview with DeLeon Tequila Distiller Miguel Cedeño Cruz

DeLeone Distiller Miguel Cedeño Cruz.
DeLeón Distiller Miguel Cedeño Cruz

The response to our DeLeón Tequila review was so great, it lead to this follow-up interview with DeLeón Distiller Miguel Cedeño Cruz, who helps shed some light on the production process for DeLeón.

How many times is DeLeón Platinum Distilled?

DeLeón Tequila is produced using Alembic-style pot distillation and is twice distilled, allowing the tequila to retain its richness and nuanced character.

Does DeLeón use a diffuser in the production of its tequila?

No diffusion band extraction is utilized in the process of producing DeLeón Tequila. We employ traditional techniques – it is not a quick process. It takes time to create DeLeón and the process cannot be rushed using diffusion.

In some tequilas, a diffuser is used to extract inulin in raw agave without cooking, followed by acid hydrolysis to release fermentable sugars. Using this method creates a more neutral profile and does not yield the desired baked notes, given there is no cooking of the piñas. Additionally, some distilleries also utilize a column still to achieve a more neutral profile and expedite the production process – DeLeón does not employ either of these methods.

DeLeón employs traditional yet lengthy techniques to fully develop a number of nuances of flavor. Rushing the process by using a diffuser does not yield the desired result. DeLeón’s taste profile is crafted through each and every step of the traditional batch process, which has been perfected over multiple trials and rounds of product testing.

Does DeLeón use a tahona to grind their roasted agave?

We do not use a tahona – the agaves used to produce DeLeón tequila are pressed using traditional mills.

What technique was used to focus the spirit in the flavor direction it is in?

The traditional tequila production methods that we utilize involve a very energy-intensive batch process which takes approximately 3 full weeks from the time of harvest to the point where the liquid is ready to be bottled. There are a number of techniques employed throughout DeLeón’s process that lend themselves to the final flavor profile you taste from the bottle.

One of the things that sets DeLeón Tequila’s flavor apart is use of exceptional ingredients – agaves are hand-selected at harvest for highest quality and peak ripeness so the plants yield the sweetest piñas, giving the tequila its abundant character and balance. DeLeón’s agave grows anywhere from 6-8 years in direct sunlight in the soil. Because conditions are not equal in all fields, the plants mature independently and are harvested individually as they reach prime maturation. Overripe plants begin to decay and develop off-tasting notes.

Because each agave is unique, once they arrive at the distillery they are cut into halves, thirds or quarters dependent on the size of the particular agave. This is to ensure that we will have even baking in the clay ovens. The central part of the plant, known as the Cogollo, is removed as it adds bitterness to the final product. This isn’t a standard industry practice and helps DeLeón become a smoother, sweeter, and less-bitter tequila.

Next, the agave is transferred to the traditional brick and clay ovens where it is slow roasted. During the cooking process, I carefully decide where to cut the bitter syrup in order to remove herbal notes & bitterness. The length of cooking is important as agave needs to be baked for the perfect amount of time in order to ensure the desired delicious caramel flavors, but without any burnt notes.

Following cooking, the baked agave is transferred to the press where a traditional mill extracts most of the sugars present. Steel mills spray curtains of water over the now soft agave while pressing to remove all the juice, in order to extract the sugars.

Next, slow fermentation under my guidance, contributes enriched depth and complexity to the agave’s natural sweetness, creating a remarkably nuanced character. In our process, the temperature is controlled to allow for a long fermentation (6-7 days) which is known to produce less fusel oils and develop more complex flavor compounds.

After the fermentation period, the liquid is transferred batch by batch to be distilled in alembic pot stills. DeLeón Tequila achieves its exceptional smoothness and purity in just two distillations—allowing the tequila to retain its rich character acquired during the fermentation process.

Finally, with relentless attention to detail, I cut the beginning and end of the distillation, allowing only the absolute best portion, or Corazón, to find its way into every bottle, creating a subtle taste profile with exceptional smoothness. For most of the aged expressions, an unconventional process blends the art of tequila with the mastery of French winemaking through a unique combination of bold American Oak and fine French wine casks to impart a distinctive, balanced character.

Is there anything special being done in the filtering process?

DeLeón Tequila employs a slow, chill filtration that removes fatty acids that produce heavy vegetative notes which cover up DeLeón’s defining lighter fruity notes, fresh green agave notes and warm spice notes. The finished tequila is filtered using a proprietary unique chill filtration method, which takes some time to complete.

The Leona comes from “estate casks”, which estate and what makes them special? Why is it $850? Please help my readers understand why a tequila should be priced this high!

Reserve Añejo tequilas are selected from my private reserve and blended to capture the ultimate essence of DeLeón’s tequila making style. This exceptional tequila is aged in robust American Oak, and finally rested for more than a year in the finest French Sauternes casks. The result is a deep amber color with notes of fresh fruit, warm cinnamon and an elegant sweet brown spice finish.

Why is DeLeón Platinum neutral in its core, more akin to a tequila-vodka hybrid?

The vision for DeLeón Platinum was to create a tequila with very complex, rich flavor attributes while maintaining a subdued and smooth finish that tequila aficionados and vodka consumers alike can enjoy.

What is DeLeón’s brand architecture strategy?

In general, as you move up the ultra-premium or luxury portfolios the tequilas increase in complexity and richness of flavor (see below for rationale for each variant). Longer aging normally develops a greater depth of flavor, except for in the case of Leóna (which is an añejo but develops very intense and complex fruit and spice notes from aging for over a year in Sauternes barrels, making the flavor very similar to cognac).

Ultra-Premium Line:

  • Platinum: this blanco is the definition of smooth with unrivaled richness and complexity; appeals to discerning tequila drinkers who want the next level in sipping tequila
  • Reposado: blends the craft of the French wine master with the art of fine tequila to create a reposado with the incredible richness and complexity imparted by aging in both American and French Oak; appeals to discerning drinkers of fine whisky and cognac
  • Añejo: blends the craft of the French wine masters with the art of fine tequila to create an añejo with even more richness and complexity and a bolder expression of the honeyed character and rich fruit imparted by aging in French Oak; appeals to discerning drinkers of fine cognac

Luxury Line:

  • Diamante: DeLeón’s signature Blanco is blended with extremely rare Añejo’s (including Leóna) that were aged in both American Oak and find French Sauternes casks, giving this joven tequila a touch of additional richness without masking the fresh and herbaceous agave flavor of the Blanco at its core
  • Extra Añejo: aged for three years in bourbon barrels and bottled at cask strength, this extra añejo has a warm toffee, sweet spice and dry oak finish; the ultimate whisky lover’s tequila
  • Leóna: aged first in American Oak and then again in fine French Sauternes casks, this Añejo tequila is blended from a very small number of barrels that were selected by the master distiller for their nuanced character and depth of flavor; appeals to drinkers of fine cognacs

You use a variety of cask types for DeLeón, what’s the thinking behind this?

The Diamante Joven does not use bourbon barrels, it uses Añejo aged in French wine barrels. The Extra Añejo uses ex-bourbon barrels & is the only product in the line that does not see French wine barrels during aging.

As for the strategy, the craft of French winemaking ties everything together, excepting Extra Añejo. This liquid formulation for Extra Añejo was “inherited”, and was such a wonderful spirit with a “bourbon” style finish that it was decided to keep the profile the same, building off the original amazing liquid to make a fine cask strength tequila, the first of its kind.

Read our complete DeLeón Tequila Review.

Frey Ranch
Frey Ranch, Fallon, Nevada

Before Prohibition, it would be commonplace to see a still on a farm in America. A significant number of early American farmers were immigrants, and many of them (including, most notably, the ones from Ireland and Germany) brought along the tradition of distillation. The farmhouse still used to be a very important piece of farm equipment, just as important as the plow or silo. Stills enabled farmers to preserve a part of their crop for sale during the winter months. This grain spirit wouldn’t spoil, got better the longer it was stored, and often fetched a higher price than the grain itself.

Prohibition just about wiped out the farmhouse still, and now it’s rare to see a still at any farm in America. This is part of what makes the Frey Ranch Distillery so important. Located about 45 minutes outside of Reno, Nevada, right outside a little town called Fallon in Churchill County, Frey Ranch Distillery is first and foremost a farm. Colby Frey, 31, along with his wife, Ashley Frey, 29, oversee over 2,500 acres of farmland at Frey Ranch.

The Freys are fifth generation Nevada farmers, dating back to the 1850s with the first deeded property in Nevada (still referred to by the state as Ranch 1). The Frey Family come from extremely modest roots – Colby’s grandfather, the original owner of Frey Ranch, literally lived in a dirt dugout.

The Original Dirt Dugout
The Original Dirt Dugout

This dugout was located on land given to Colby’s grandfather. The land was nearly valueless and considered un-farmable because it was densely packed with large trees. Inventiveness is something that clearly runs in the Frey family, and Colby’s grandfather designed and built a stump puller from the scrap material he had on hand. He then cleared the land by hand, one tree at a time, and sold it to get the funds to buy the land where the Frey Ranch is today.

When the time came for Coldby’s grandfather to retire, he sold the farm to his son, Charlie Frey. Following the family tradition, when Charlie Frey was ready to retire, he sold it to Colby. “There’s no way we could do what we do on this land if we didn’t own it. The mortgage alone would be much more than anything we could produce on it,” remarks Colby.

Frey Ranch
Frey Ranch

As a farm, Frey Ranch is impressive. Spanning 2,500 acres of both owned and leased land, the farm extends almost as far as the eye can see. Initially focused on producing cattle feed, Frey Ranch grows corn, wheat, rye, barley, and alfalfa – the first four being crops that just happen to be the key grains in whiskey.

In 2001, the Freys added grapes to their crops, augmenting the vines which historically grow around the farm’s main house. In 2004, the Freys began to produce wine and bottle it under the brand Churchill Vineyards. “There was already a Frey wine on the market, although they pronounce it ‘fry’, so we didn’t want any confusion,” explains Colby.

Churchill Vineyards
Churchill Vineyards

Their wine was a hit, especially in the local area. Between the bountiful number of white grapes grown on the property, and the red grapes brought in from Sonoma, the Freys found themselves with a surplus of wine. The Freys looked at the possibility of distilling those wines into brandy, but in 2006, it was still illegal to distill in Nevada. “We lobbied the legislature to change the laws so we could get an experimental distilling license. This meant we could distill, but couldn’t sell,” says Colby.

Their efforts were successful, and in 2006 the Freys began to make brandy, the first legally distilled spirit in Nevada since Prohibition. In 2011, the Freys decided it was time to take things to the next level, so again they lobbied the Nevada legislature and helped pass a craft distilling bill. They were successful, and in September 2014, the first spirits rolled off the Frey Ranch Distillery still.

Frey Ranch Distiller Russell Wedlake
Frey Ranch Distiller Russell Wedlake

For a craft distillery, Frey Ranch Distillery is incredibly impressive. Built in the former location of the farm’s horse corral, and using a great deal its reclaimed wood, the distillery spans 4,700 square feet. At the heart of the distillery is a Vendome still, which is a trifecta of a 500 gallon pot still, a vodka column, and a 24-foot continuous still. To feed that, Frey Ranch Distillery has four 5,000 gallon fermenters, one 5,000 gallon mash cooker, and one 5,000 gallon beer well. “We oversized the distillery so we could run it all winter, then shut it down during the summer and focus on farming,” explains Colby.

Frey Ranch Vendome Still
Frey Ranch Vendome Still

As with almost everything that the Freys do, they completed the design, configuration, and installation of the distillery themselves. “We wanted to plumb our steam lines under the floor, and when we called the plumbers to ask how exactly to do this, they said we can’t. After explaining how we figured we could, they realized we were on to something,” remarks Colby.

After going through the painstaking task of floor malting their first batch of whiskey, Colby worked with a local welder and machinist to help design their own malthouse. “We’re using the same tools we do to weigh grain. You can figure out the humidity better in a malting drum by how much it weighs, and this is more accurate than taking the reading at one end of the malter, which may be different than another end.”

The Grain is the Star at Frey Ranch
The Grain is the Star at Frey Ranch

As impressive as the distillery is, the real star of the Frey Ranch Distillery is the grain. With deep experience growing barley, corn, rye, and wheat, the Freys shifted their focus from feeding cattle to making vodka and whiskey. “We grow wheat, rye, barley, and corn, so it made sense to make our whiskey from what we grow.” Both Frey Ranch Vodka (currently on the market), and the future Frey Ranch Bourbon Whiskey are made from the same mash bill: 66.6% corn, 11.4% rye, 10% wheat, and 12% barley. “We actually baked a bunch of bread, and the one we liked the best, we used as our mash bill.”

Churchill Brandy and Frey Ranch Vodka
Churchill Brandy and Frey Ranch Vodka

While the Frey Ranch Distillery Whiskey probably won’t be on the market for a few years, Frey Ranch Vodka is a sneak peek of what’s to come. Frey Ranch Vodka can easily be classified as a premium craft vodka; instead of being neutral, it showcases the four grain blend from the mash bill. From the wheat there’s a wonderful vanilla creaminess, from the corn there’s an underlining sweetness, the barley gives it beautiful cereal grain flavors, and the rye adds some spice. The entire taste experience of Frey Ranch Vodka is soft and round, full of soft grain flavor, solid structure, and a nice clean finish.

We had an opportunity to taste some of the spirit coming off the Frey Ranch still that’s destined to become Frey Ranch Whiskey and it has extraordinary promise. Like the vodka, the whiskey showcases the four grains from the mash bill, but here they are the full and complete expression. We’ve never tried a white whiskey that had a better and clearer expression of the grain.

Colby and Ashley Frey
Colby and Ashley Frey

That’s what it all comes down to. First and foremost, the Freys are grain farmers. They’ve made their living for generations growing, harvesting, processing, and selling these grains. They understand the entire equation, from the best way to fertilize their crops, to which varieties grow best, and when to harvest them. “The saying in the vineyard is, you can’t make good wine out of bad grapes. It’s the same thing with the grains you make into distilled spirits. We have total control, we can sacrifice quantity for quality, and that’s what we do very often, and it’ll show in the end product. Having total control from planting the grains, the types and varieties, the way it’s grown, the fertilizers, the pesticides, all that stuff really adds up and shows in the final product.”

The Freys aren’t just a new and important voice in the craft distilling movement, they represent the resurrection of one of the essential elements of small American farming: the farmhouse still. If more farms follow suit, it could create an interesting and vibrant segment of the craft distilling movement and a range of spirits that are grown, harvested, fermented, distilled, bottled, and sold all in the same place.

Watch our video From Grain To Glass: Behind The Scenes of the Frey Ranch Distillery:

Oban Little Bay
Oban Little Bay

Diageo has a funny relationship with the single malt distilleries it owns. On one hand, their malt distilleries primarily exist to help quench the never-ending thirst for Johnnie Walker. Brands like Caol Ila have had entire offerings, like Caol Ila 18, wiped off the map to feed the thirsty Walker beast, and had their entire distillery re-tooled to keep up with Walker’s demands. On the other hand, Diageo has presented their malt distilleries as something special, with great reverence and respect, especially under their annual Single Malt Special Releases Collection. Diageo’s malt approach has been a little bi-polar, but it’s nice to see them swing back around and give their malts more time and attention in the marketplace.

Oban is a great little distillery located in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Compared to the time and attention given to some of their other malts, Oban really hasn’t been in the spotlight for Diageo. That changed recently when Oban was included in Diageo’s big viral video series, My Tales of Whisky, starring comedian Nick Offerman. The video series featured a couple of Diageo’s malt brands, but it focused primarily on Lagavulin and Oban (in one of the videos, Offerman plays the various maker’s of Oban Whisky).

While Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky has been on the market for some time, there’s been little fanfare over it from Diageo. In late 2013, Diageo saw some solid success with a refresh of another of their malt brands, Talisker, with the release of Talisker Storm. Storm served two very important purposes for Diageo: it helped breath new life and excitement into the Talisker brand while showing that a non-age statement release could actually be good.

There been a lot of controversy over non-age stated Scottish Single Malt Whiskies, and Diageo has done a solid job of navigating that storm with Talisker Storm. Now with Oban Little Bay, Diageo looks to see if they can again refresh one of their malt brands and continue to move the malt market toward offerings that don’t bear an age statement.

Oban Little Bay (43%, 86 Proof, $75) – labeled as “small cask”, this non-age stated release takes “mature small batch Oban single malt and gives it time in small oak casks”. While Diageo doesn’t disclose the age of this mature Oban or specify the small casks, we’re assuming they took inspiration from Laphroaig’s immensely successful Quarter Cask product for Oban Little Bay.

Dark amber in color, Oban Little Bay has a rich and vibrant malty nose with dried apple, dried plums, caramel, honey, allspice, and oak. There’s a solid balance between the rich and spicy characteristics. The entry is very flavorful and expressive, matching the nose quite well with toasted malt, green apple, dried apricot, salt, chocolate, and orange peel. In the midpalate the real impact of the small cask finish is quite apparent as the spice elements noticeably increase with clove and oak without abandoning the sweet dried fruit underneath. After the peak of the midpalate, Oban Little Bay backs off quite a bit for a lightly acidic and slightly spicy finish. It’s a fairly light and slightly dry finish that ends fairly clean.

Side by side with Oban 14, Oban Little Bay does a good job of holding its own. Oban 14 has a richer, deeper mouthfeel, spicier midpalate and longer, stronger finish, but Oban Little Bay adds more complexity to the mix. It’s slightly sweeter, more fruity, and better balanced. While the finish on Little Bay is a little drier than we prefer, it’s a perfect example of how taking the handcuffs off on age allows a blender to create a new, complex, balanced, and interesting product.

The old adage used to be that a movie sequel was never better than the original, then The Godfather Part 2 came around and changed the game. The Godfather Part 2 was followed by The Empire Strikes Back, and then Toy Story 2, and eventually, people stopped saying that sequels are always inferior. That’s what’s happening in the non-age stated Scotch Whisky space – first there was Laphroaig Quarter Cask, then Talisker Storm, now Oban Little Bay. It’s a pretty compelling argument that you can have offerings without an age statement that are just as enjoyable and enticing as ones that do. 90 points.

DISCUS is no Watchdog
DISCUS is no Watchdog

How alcohol is handled in the United States is nothing short of chaotic, piecemeal, and absurd. Although the prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcohol was repealed in 1933 by the Federal Government, the dismantling of Prohibition was handled by each individual state. This lead to a nation with a patchwork of rules, laws, and regulations, including one of the most absurd facts that one of the nation’s largest spirits, Jack Daniels, is made in a “dry” county that still observes some of the laws of prohibition.

To manage this hodgepodge, the Federal Government created the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The core function of this body is to ensure that the Federal Government receives a national excise tax for the sale and distribution of all alcohol in the US. In order to properly tax this alcohol, the TTB had to create a set of rules and regulations aimed at classifying, typing, and controlling the manufacturing and sale of spirits. These rules weren’t really about consumer protection or cutting through the chaos of a dysfunctional system, they were established to prevent alcohol producers and distributors from playing a cup-and-ball magic trick with their products to avoid paying taxes.

Here’s the formal mission of the TTB (note that it starts with its core, tax):

Collect the taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms and ammunition;
protect the consumer by ensuring the integrity of alcohol products;
and prevent unfair and unlawful market activity for alcohol and tobacco products.

When a new distillery is founded, the TTB will inspect the facility to ensure that it’s compliant with the rules and eliminate any sort of trickery to avoid tax. Inspectors have been known to try to search for hidden doors and walls, and accuse distillers of attempting every form trickery with how they handle their spirits. The TTB isn’t interested in the safety of the people working in the distillery – that is handled by local fire and government – it’s all about making sure they get paid.

This is also the focus of the TTB’s infamous label approval process, whose aim again isn’t really to make sure that customers aren’t getting harmed, but to make sure that the label is clear and the classification is correct so the TTB can get their tax. Beyond tax issues, the Federal Government under the TTB does not generally get involved with enforcement of alcohol laws, responsible marketing, or consumer protection (although they create the perception that they are there to protect consumers). Their advertising rules are more focused on making sure spirit companies don’t engage in “interstate or foreign commerce”.

Yes, some of the TTB rules end up being consumer friendly, like making sure alcohol manufacturers disclose if they’re using neutral grain spirits, and the prohibition of health claims on products. But when it comes to where the rubber actually meets the road, including when spirit makers market their products to kids, or when a product adds over 30% sugar without disclosing it,  the TTB isn’t involved. Neither is the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA doesn’t consider alcohol a food or drug and as such doesn’t require it to adhere to any of its food labeling or safety laws.

To “police” the industry, the TTB looks to the Distilled Spirits Council of The United States (aka DISCUS). DISCUS is a Washington, DC based national trade association (aka lobbying group) supported by many of the major spirit brands (known as “member companies”). These brands support DISCUS, whose major focus is lobbying the Federal Government to enable spirit companies to be increasingly free to sell their products without the further encumbrance of additional taxes and regulations.

Their mission statement makes that pretty clear:

Our team of economists, scientists, lobbyists and public affairs professionals works to support laws that increase adult market access for spirits products, provide greater convenience and choices for our adult consumers and encourage responsible consumption. We protect the hospitality industry from higher taxes and work diligently to reduce tariffs and trade barriers across the globe.

The problem, though, is that this “trade association” is also responsible for policing the marketing practices of the spirits industry. That’s right, the lobby group that spends the majority of its time refuting studies on the harms of alcohol and getting more states to allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays (aka rolling back Blue Laws) is also supposed to be the “watch dog” of the industry. It’s like asking a football team to call their own penalties – it just doesn’t work.

In the past 4 years, DISCUS has only ruled on 14 complaints, and in 14 complaints, no punitive action has ever been taken. In the rare circumstance where a spirits company has been found to be in violation of the Distilled Spirits Council Code of Responsible Practices, the result has been for DISCUS to work with the company to resolve the offense.

When you consider the thousands of products that came to market over that period and the myriad of marketing and sales tactics used by brands, the fact that there have only been 14 filed complaints is pretty mind blowing. But when you actually read over these complaints, it’s clear why there are so few: DISCUS isn’t a watchdog, they’re a lobbying group, and their rules are so loose, you could drive an 18 wheeler through them.

To illustrate just how toothless the system is, we decided to put it to the test. In November 2014, Phillips Distilling, makers of UV Sugar Crush Vodka, and their PR Firm Formula PR, sent out a cocktail pitch to tie their product to the new Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay Part 1. The pitch went as follows:

Hi Geoffrey,

Get your bow ready because The Hunger Games: Mockingjay hits theaters on November 21st and Katniss Everdeen won’t be taking any prisoners! There’s no better way to celebrate the opening of this highly anticipated movie than with UV Vodka’s Hunger Games inspired cocktails.

So whether you’re #TeamPeeta or #TeamGale, UV Vodka has over 20 innovative, first-to-market flavors ranging from UV Sriracha to UV Sugar Crush that everyone can agree to love. Try a few of our recipes below, perfect for any tribute.

If you are interested in learning more about UV Vodka, would like high-res images, product samples or additional recipes sent to you, please do not hesitate to ask! I can be contacted at 212.219.0321 or

May the odds be ever in your flavor,
Formula PR for UV Vodka


The Nightlock Sleeper
1 part UV Sugar Crush
1 part pomegranate juice
1 part club soda

Mockingjay Bloody
2 parts UV Sriracha
2 parts tomato juice
1 part celery salt
1 part tabasco sauce
1 part worcestershire sauce

District 13
1 part UV Blue
1 part creme de cacao
1 part triple sec
1 part lime juice

The pitch was a pretty clearly out of the bounds of acceptability. Using a movie that’s based on a young adult book series to promote a vodka isn’t just in bad taste, it should be illegal, right? You’d think so.

Our first stop was the Feds, and we contacted the TTB by phone and email. After a few attempts to levy our complaint we were told:

TTB does not generally regulate where advertisements are placed or the types of entertainment with which products are associated (in this case the Hunger Games movie). For TTB to have any recourse, the advertisement itself would have to be contrary to a particular TTB regulation at 27 CFR Part 5, Subpart H.

We suggest you contact the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) to determine if this would be an issue under their industry Code of Responsibility at

Jeffrey A. Salisbury, Specialist
Advertising, Labeling and Formulation Division
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

We then contacted DISCUS, who asked us to file a formal complaint which they would review. We did this on November 4, 2014. We asserted that Phillips Distilling, via its brand UV Vodka, was clearly trying to appeal to young, underage drinkers both through their Hunger Games promotion and through the Sugar Crush product which features cartoon candy on the label.  The response came a full 2 months later in a publication on the DISCUS web site.  While DISCUS has a defined policy on how long a response should take, Lynne Omlie, DISCUS Code Staff Liaison, cited holidays and “computer problems” as a reason why it wasn’t responded to within the defined period of time.

As you’d expect, DISCUS agreed that pitching Hunger Game Cocktails couldn’t be seen under any light as acceptable.

After careful consideration of the complaint and the advertiser’s response, the Code Review Board found that, regarding the first component of the complaint, the marketing materials for UV Vodka’s “Hunger Games Inspired Cocktails” violated Responsible Content Provision No. 2 of the Code, which provides that “[t]he content of beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not primarily appeal to individuals below the legal purchase age.” As set forth in the Code, “[a]dvertising or marketing material is considered to ‘primarily appeal’ to persons below the legal purchase age if it has special attractiveness to such persons beyond the general attractiveness it has for persons of legal purchase age.”

So what was the consequence? Nothing.

The advertiser immediately withdrew and ceased the “Hunger Games Inspired Cocktails” promotion. In addition, the advertiser instituted proactive measures to ensure all external communications thoroughly are reviewed against the Code provisions.

Two months after a promotion ran, DISCUS just asked them to stop it. There was no form of punitive damages, no fines levied, no teeth. A company did something so clearly in violation of even the loosest code of conduct and the result is DISCUS saying, “Hey, stop it…”

What’s worse is that the wall that this one sailed over was so tall that most complaints over products aimed at young drinkers don’t meet the standard. The code’s caveat is that a spirits marketing material must “primarily appeal to persons below the legal purchase age”. That’t right, a complaint must show that the PRIMARY target is kids. So if you were to prove in any way that adults were also possibly a target, then the ad passes muster. This was the justification to OK the cartoon candy design on a product where the company was caught red-handed marketing primarily to persons below the legal purchase age.

The advertiser further stated that “Sugar Crush tested favorably with our millennial target, and our use of bright colors is reflective of what they shared they love when they talked about the ‘grown-up’ retail candy trend in shops such as Dylan’s Candy Bar and Sugar Factory.”

All Phillips Distilling had to do was argue that there are some retail stores that sell candy to adults and that was compelling enough for DISCUS to say, oh, okay, even though we’ve caught you red-handed trying to market a cartoon candy product to kids, the fact that people sell candy to adults means you aren’t primarily marketing to kids, so you’re good to go. It’s the same kind of thinking that made them give the go-ahead to Adult Chocolate Milk.

Without any real consequences, the liquor industry has no motivation not to skirt the line and market their products to young, underage drinkers. And in the case of UV Vodka, it’s working. A recent post in the /r/alcohol section of Reddit is just one example of UV’s success in selling to underage drinkers:

I just turned 21, and I want to celebrate. I also just got my own crib and I just got a huge severance from my last job and I don’t start my next job for a week so now I’ve gotta party, right? I think so. The only issue I have is I don’t really ever buy my own alcohol, the only alcohol I’ve ever bought was to bring to other people’s parties. I bought a lot of UV in high school and beer of course, but I want to stock my bar with a few bottles and I don’t know a lot about high-quality liquor.

Underage drinking is a real problem, and it’s no wonder: there are precious few people whose job it is to prevent it.

I think it’s time that the alcohol industry had some sort of real watchdog, because DISCUS isn’t it. It’s a shame that the Federal Government defers to a lobby group to enforce the trade practices of the companies who fund it. As a watchdog, DISCUS not only has no bark, it literally has no bite. Even when you compare DISCUS to its UK counterpart, The Portman Group, it’s clear just how limp DISCUS’ commitment to responsible marketing is. During the same period from 2010 to the end of 2014, The Portman Group heard more than twice the number of complaints. This is a country with 20% of the population of the US with less than half the alcohol products on the market.

I’m not advocating some major re-haul of the TTB, or even moving alcohol over to the FDA (which I’m told would single handedly eliminate craft distilling in America), but it’s time that the alcohol industry had consequences for breaking the rules, and there need to be better rules for them to follow. It’s simply not unreasonable to hold alcohol companies’ feet to the fire so that in no way do any of their marketing efforts appeal to underage drinkers. It’s also time that they were compelled to disclose what’s in their products, where they come from, and exactly what’s added to them. Alcohol companies try to hide behind trade secrets, but consumers consume significant quantities of these products, and they ought to know what they are consuming.

If DISCUS isn’t up to this task, then there needs to be another watchdog, perhaps one that isn’t funded by the brands it watches, and it’s got to have teeth. Without real consequences for breaking rules, liquor companies have absolutely no incentive to do anything but what’s in their own best interest, and for spirits, that’s acquire customers as close to the point they can (legally or illegally) buy it.