Earlier this year, legendary Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge announced his retirement and named his replacement – Quality Director and current co-Master Distiller of Four Roses, Brent Elliott. On the eve of Brent assuming the title of Master Distiller, he was kind enough to answer a couple of questions via email regarding his new position, the future of Four Roses, and the upcoming Limited Edition Small Batch release.
I recently had a chance to chat with BBQ Chef Adam Perry Lang and George Dickel National Brand Ambassador Doug Kragel. Chef Lang is one of the biggest names in BBQ. Back over the summer he was on Jimmy Kimmel teaching Jimmy how to cook steaks. When I had the chance to talk to him, I thought I’d grill him (Sorry for the horrible pun) on what else: BBQ and whisky.
Adam on his cooking style: My style is one of just an active griller. I like to talk about BBQ as cooking with live fire. I like to let the situation dictate. (I like to) feel the fire, understand how it’s behaving. Often times I’m very active moving meat around or sometimes just leaving it alone. I don’t have any type of set protocol.
Adam on his favorite winter cuts to cook: I like to cook large roasts. I’m typically a person who loves to cook beef, so I love rib roasts. A bone-in or bone-out ribeye roast is a favorite of mine. I love cooking bone-in strip loin as well.
Adam on cooking those tough cuts like brisket: I don’t know what you’re cooking on, but you should cook between a temperature range of between 250 and 300 degrees, and really be patient. As the meat cooks to about 160 degrees internal, let it cook there for a while. A quick tip to tenderize it is to wrap it in butcher’s paper or aluminum foil and put it back on the grill and cook to a temperature of 205 degrees.
Adam on whisky and BBQ: It’s a match made in heaven for two reasons. First, drinking whisky with things that tend to be heavier in fat, it’s a great counter-balance. It’s very palate cleansing in respect to something that’s very deep and rich in fat. Just as important I find that whisky, with it’s smoky overtones, is similar in so many ways – even just the craft of making whisky, specifically George Dickel, how they’re handmade the hard way. The beauty is in all the details. BBQ is the same thing. You really have to be very attentive to all the details.
Doug on George Dickel and BBQ: I think Adam hit it on the head. First and foremost it’s about our connection to the whisky and how that goes so well with the core principles of cooking BBQ. Having 25 guys at the distillery who man every single part of the process, they’re paying attention to it and are constantly aware to what’s happening. We’re not removing ourselves from the process like you are with other types of cooking. The flavor profiles of George Dickel have the right balance of smokiness and whisky bite that everybody loves. The astringency works well with fatty meat. Also because it’s 84% corn, the sweetness that comes in as well provides a great contrast to the spices you add to your BBQ. They really mesh well together. That balance balance between the sweetness in the whisky and what comes out in the meat really meshes well.
Adam on his secret whisky BBQ sauce: The secret is there is no secret. It’s probably one of those fantastic combinations where we’re just using three ingredients. We’re cooking down the whisky until we cook off the alcohol. Then we’re adding honey. At that point either add your own homemade BBQ sauce or your favorite store brand. It’s really tremendous.
Adam on other ways to incorporate whisky into BBQ: Drinking it. (laughs) I’m not really looking for crazy different ways to cook with it. I only want to use it where I think it’s appropriate. For me, it would just be an accent with the BBQ sauce or to just drink it. I don’t feel it would carry through so much that… it would just be lost if I were to baste with it or something else.
Doug on whisky cocktails and food pairings: When it comes to pairing whisky with food in general I think that starting neat, especially when cooking with BBQ, is the way to go. I think Adam would second that there’s something about the process of being involved with your with your cooking and being able to enjoy that whisky neat to start, and being able to sip on it. When we get into cocktails I think it’s more of an accent. Cooking, especially with BBQ, is about entertaining as well. It’s about creating an atmosphere. What I really love to do in that scenario is make some whisky punches. You make a very simple punch (see recipe below) with George Dickel Rye and some citrus. Very simple to make, and it’s about the entertaining and the experience. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, other than making a classic Manhattan at home for that pre-meal cocktail. That’s one of the better places to start pairing is before the actual meal. It starts off the whole experience.
I’ve been curious about the FEW Spirits brand since the day I ran across a bottle of their bourbon in a store in Nashville. They are a relatively new distillery, but have made quite a name for themselves. In addition to gin and seasonal products, FEW Spirits distills white whiskey, rye whiskey and bourbon in their Evanston, Illinois distillery. Their bottles are adorned in art that pays homage to the 1892 Chicago World’s Exposition. Founder and Master Distiller Paul Hletko was kind enough to answer a few questions about FEW Spirits via email.
Paul, thanks for taking to time to answer a few questions for AdventuresInWhiskey.com. Let’s start things off with your commitment to be a true craft distiller. You guys are a true grain-to-glass producer, which I assume is much more costly than buying stocks of whiskey.
Frankly, it’s not even close. We are passionate about what we do and how we do it, so it’s an investment we are happy to make, but it does add challenges. On the other hand, it also allows us to make different products than everyone else, because we have full control over every aspect.
What does FEW stands for?
The name “Few” is intended to evoke the fact that we don’t make a lot, and rather, just make a little. Or a Few. We also like the fact that folks who enjoy their alcohol in moderation can have just one drink and also make it a Few. There are several out there who also enjoy the sheer coincidence that the second head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), who lived here in Evanston, was named Frances Elizabeth Willard, initials F.E.W. But that’s a coincidence.
Your distillery is located in Evanston, IL, which was in a formerly dry county. That changed fairly recently, but you still had a lot of work to do before you were able to start distilling there.
Absolutely. Evanston was founded as a dry community in the 1850s, and the WCTU has had a major role in local and national history. (Indeed, Frances Willard was the first woman memorialized in statue form in the rotunda of the US Capitol.) Alcohol was banned entirely in Evanston until 1972. But when I wanted to start the distillery, the city of Evanston was extremely supportive, and has been great to work with ever since. Honestly, any difficulties we ran into were because nobody had ever dealt with a distillery before and not because of any opposition to it.
In terms of labeling, you went with something important to the growth of the Chicago area – the 1892 Chicago World’s Exposition. Why that choice?
The World’s Fair was a major event in Chicago history and is even the inspiration for one of the 4 stars on the Chicago flag. We like it, as it allows people that recognize it to understand that we’re saying Chicago, without actually saying it. Also, Frances Willard was a featured speaker at the Fair, as she was one of the most famous women (and Evanston residents) in the world at the time.
You weren’t always in the whiskey business. Tell us a little bit about where/how you started, and what led to your current path?
I’ve always been motivated by creativity. Creativity is what motivates me. I’ve been a musician, and ran a record label. I’ve been a homebrewer, and designed and built custom guitar effects pedals. I was led to distilling by, not only a passion for spirits, but also a family history. Prior to WWII, my grandfather’s family owned a major brewery in what is now the Czech Republic. After the Nazi invasion, they no longer owned the brewery, and although my grandfather survived the camps, the rest of the family was wiped out. My grandfather never recovered the brewery, and when he died, I wanted to build on that family history but do something new and positive.
Craft distilleries generally aren’t known to release whiskies older than a couple of years because of costs. What’s the average age of your rye and bourbon? Any plans to release something in the 6+ age range in the future?
I don’t believe in age statements, as there is much more to whiskey than just age in barrel. Obviously, time in barrel is a very important factor, and cannot be ignored, but there are many other factors, ranging from ferment time and temperature, to the depth of heads and tails cuts (if making cuts at all), to the distillation proof. Because we don’t believe in age statements, we don’t use them.
You’re currently being distributed in 12 states I believe. Any word on when we’ll get to see some of your spirits down here in Louisiana?
We are hoping to come down to Louisiana in 2015, actually. We’ve had a lot of interest, and we’re excited to be there.
Few Spirits has gotten a lot of great press lately, including having your rye whiskey being named “Craft Whiskey of the Year” by Whisky Advocate. Considering all the awards and success, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the team we have at Few, and what we’ve been able to do. We love the spirits we make (we wouldn’t make them if we didn’t!), but the team is the key.
When you’re not drinking your own product, what are some of your go-to whiskies on the market?
There are some amazing whiskies on the market, for sure. My favorites can change depending on mood, but currently, I’ve been enjoying Four Roses, Westland, Balcones, and Corsair.
What’s your favorite whiskey cocktail?
I drink whiskey neat, typically, but can often be found enjoying a Manhattan.