GrandLife hosted an event in the Grand Bar at Soho Grand celebrating our American Whiskey program, which includes 50 hand-selected varieties from all over the country. Hosted by GrandLife Local Cody Hammond, the event drew a crowd of local whiskey enthusiasts and representatives from several of the brands stocked behind the bar. We caught up with them last night to talk about whiskey, the work that goes in to making the beloved spirit, and obscure facts that many may not know.
Here, we present those obscure facts – which may surprise whiskey novices and experts alike:
1. Whiskey & Women: “The first whiskey distillers were Irish and Scottish women known as ‘brewsters,’ and were often persecuted in the Middle Ages as witches – since they made alcohol for medicinal purposes at apothecaries. Even the term ‘Bain Marie,’ one of the first distilling methods that dates back to the early 1800’s, is named after a Jewish woman, Maria, and is still used today in kitchens around the world. And while women are often sexually objectified in alcohol advertising , the reality is that they’ve done more to market whiskeys than anyone else – just look at the Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve bottling last year, an homage to the classic whiskey woman.
– Ryan Hicks, Hudson Whiskey, Gardiner, NY
2. Kentucky? Not Always: “Many people are unaware of a simple fact: bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky. Which explains why you can find incredible bourbons from all over the country. And that water makes a huge difference in whiskey – just like beer and New York bagels.”
– Mike Dirksen, Widow Jane, Brooklyn, NY
3. A Presidential Matter: “My favorite obscure fact about whiskey is that George Washington operated the largest distillery in the country in the 1790s, producing a rye whiskey from his estate on Mt. Vernon. The distillery came to be after he hired a Scottish plantation manager who encouraged the president to open it, and in 1799, produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey. WhistlePig’s Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell, helped to rebuild the distillery at Mt. Vernon, where they now produce rye whiskey according to Washington’s original recipe.”
– Michael Hodge, WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey, Shoreham, VT
4. Know Your Chill Filtered Whiskey: “Whiskies under 92 proof will more than likely be chill filtered. When you chill filter, it filters out both good and bad things – and one of those things is color. Personally, I always look for 92 proof or over, so that I know it’s natural and unadulterated. And so that I can make a tailor made, custom drink, depending on what I add to it. You get to be your own blender. What’s better than that?”
– Elena Effrat, Balcones Distilling, Waco, TX
5. A Colonial Rebellion: “In the 1750s this country had a number of rum distilleries, which led the British government to pass The Sugar Act, one of several taxes placed on goods in the colonies – and one of many factors that led to the Tea Party and the American Revolution. To avoid taxes, rum makers started to make whiskey. Soon after gaining independence, the American government (especially Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton) needed a revenue stream and created a tax on whiskey in the 1790s. Farmers were not happy, and the Whiskey Rebellion began. Hamilton ended up leading 14,000 troops against the opposition, and won the fight. This eventually led to whiskey production moving South, and why states like Tennessee and Kentucky are commonly known for their whiskeys to this day.”
– Chris Weld, Berkshire Mountain Distilleries, Great Barrington, MA
And to get part of the American Whiskey program experience at home, listen to our Whiskey Bar playlist on GrandLife’s Spotify channel.
– Sam Todd