...[T]he recipes in here reflect the last 3-5 years
of tinkering with different recipes, techniques, and ideas
in an effort to do one simple thing:
expand the horizons of what whiskey can be.
And, of course, have fun.
~ Darek Bell
A decade ago, fewer than a hundred distilleries supplied all of America’s domestic legal liquor supply. Today, we can boast four times that number. Well, “boast,” perhaps, is not wholly accurate. That growth has entailed missteps and occasional outright failures as this cohort of new distillers — who may have been hobbyists or working in wholly different fields five years ago — make the transition to more seasoned professionals.
But make no mistake: the transition is underway.
Bell is the owner of Corsair Artisan Distillery. He’s also a hell of a distiller with the credentials to prove it. He trained at the Seibel Brewing Institute and is a graduate of the Bruichladdich Distilling Academy. His whiskeys have won numerous awards. His book, Alt Whiskeys, hit the shelves this week.
Tapping that fat vein of experimental distilling, Bell subtitled the self-published tome Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller. Alt Whiskeys is a turning point in the literature of American distilling. There’s nothing else out there that captures, page after page, our modern distillers’ spirit of innovation with new ingredients, techniques, and equipment — or that reveals the deep connections between craft brewing and craft distilling, as evidenced by Bell’s thorough use of original and target gravities, fermentation temperatures, barrel notes, and other specific technical notes that read more like something from brewers' manuals than the recipes one usually finds for spirits.
“What’s wrong with whiskeys the way they are now?” Bell writes.
Absolutely nothing. As a whiskey geek myself, I am an avid whiskey lover. You might even say whiskey obsessed. BUT I do think whiskey could be better. Different. More interesting. Brewers have a palate of over 50 different types of malt at their disposal to draw from, while most distillers just use plain 2 row barley.How could they be better, different, more interesting? The book gives ample suggestions and guidelines, starting with grains. American distillers are familiar with corn, wheat, rye, and barley, of course. Bell, however, explores alternatives; amaranth, quinoa, spelt, kamut, grain sorghum, millet, blue corn, tritordeum, and more. Buckwheat, even — not actually a grain, but it can be treated as one, as Bell demonstrates in his recipe for 92 proof buckwheat bourbon. More of them come into play in his seven- and eleven-grain bourbons.
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But he really hits stride in the chapter on hopped whiskeys. “If whiskey is distilled beer,” Bell asks, “why has an element so critical to the history of beer never been used?” Well, it has been used, just not widely; hopped whiskeys are still a surprise even to many whiskey drinkers. Bell embraces the bitter flower cones with abandon.
Seven hopped whiskey recipes reveal multiple ways to get the hops’ nose, taste, and tang into the bottle. Some, such as dry hopping, are familiar to brewers, but hopping whiskey is not exactly the same as hopping beer. Distillers work with a sealed vessel, so there’s no just tossing in hops as brewers do during the cooking of the beer. Bell’s solution? A handmade double-valved hop insertion pipe for the still that allows distillers to add hops at particular points in the run. He also deploys hop backs, hop teas, and hopbursting, a technique that introduces massive amounts of hops late in the process that allows the distiller to amplify the hops aroma (and a bit of bitterness).
Another chapter explores alternates to hops, malt, and yeast. Wormwood wit whiskey, anyone? Chamomile wheat whiskey? How about an elderflower Bohemian pilsner whiskey, barley sochu, mint-chocolate milk stout whiskey, or cannabis moonshine? I’ve yet to taste a
About 60 recipes in all, rounded out with a chapter on cocktails from Josh Habiger.
Alt Whiskeys belongs on the shelf of every American distiller, legal, extra-legal, or simply aspiring. Whiskey lovers, see what’s going to be happening to your beloved spirit over the next few years — not just from Corsair, but from distilleries across the country. The rest of you lot, if you want to understand why this is one of the most interesting and promising times for distillers in hundreds of years, get this book.
Then break out the whiskey.
Darek Bell (2012)
Edited by Amy Lee Bell, Photography by Pete Rodman, Forward by Bill Owens
Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller
200 pages (paperback)
Corsair Artisan Distillery
Amazon sells it here.
Goes well with:
- Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer. As I wrote two years back, "If you make sausage or cure your own meats—any kind, not just pork—don’t delay. Get a copy of Maynard’s book today. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for." Just so, Alt Whiskeys is the one we've been waiting for.