Craig LaBan's online chat

Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, from the year-old distillery in Bristol. It's open to the public on Saturdays. CRAIG LaBAN / Staff
Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, from the year-old distillery in Bristol. It's open to the public on Saturdays. CRAIG LaBAN / Staff
Posted: July 12, 2012

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Craig LaBan: Just got a chance to visit the barely year-old Dad's Hat Distillery in Bristol (see this coming Sunday's Drink column) which just launched its barrel-aged rye in the Pennsylvania market (along with its already available white rye). If you're really curious, Dad's distillery is inaugurating its open-to-the-public Saturdays this weekend with tours, tastings, and on-site sales thanks to the smart new Pennsylvania law allowing for on-site sales at craft distilleries, similar to wineries and breweries.

Reader: My question is how does a new distillery fare when they are unable to produce an aged product? Is the new product fit for drinking and for judgment?

C.L.: Great question?...?this is why so many of the new craft distilleries you see are selling white spirits (vodka, gin, etc.) and now the white whiskey trend, a really exciting new category. Many of them are definitely quite ready for sipping — though they have a completely different taste profile from the aged product, with more grain flavors and vivid fruitiness. The best remind me of a good blanco tequila. The aged whiskey situation is really fascinating — because there is more than one way to make that spirit change, and soften — especially barrel size. Most conventional distilleries are using 50-plus-gallon barrels, but Dad's, like many of the newbies, is using smaller casks (15 gallons) that increase exposure to the oak and speed the "aging." Hudson Whiskey, which really helped pioneer this technique with the 5-gallon barrels for its "Baby Bourbon," even turns on techno-music in the rickhouse overnight to help the spirit interact with the wood walls through heavy bass assistance. It's up to the blender to really master a taste profile and hit it. One thing is for sure: Older isn't always better. Sometimes a spirit that's 9 months has just the right amount of life and vibrance still in it to really pop in a cocktail.

Reader: I read your Shore reviews and wanted to add one of my own. My husband and I recently ate at Avalon Rose in Avalon. It was spectacular. I had saffron steamers and a maple-glazed salmon. I highly suggest it.

C.L.: Thanks so much for this report on Avalon Rose, which sadly I missed. This sounds like one to check out for next year for me.

Reader: Saw the story last night about West South Street blowing up (not literally). Any spots there you like?

C.L.: Well, Pumpkin was the pioneer here, of course, so they deserve lots of cred. But so much of what's happening here is still in progress — waiting for Magpie (the sweet and savory pie shop), a new branch of Pure Fare, the new spot from the Hawthorne's people (going into the old Tritone). ... Rex 1516 is definitely worth paying attention to. (More on that later). The Quick Fixx is pretty good (mentioned here), and the Thai place Sawatdee is not bad, but nothing special either. I wish someone would take over the old Ron's Ribs and start smoking again.

Reader: I know some start-up distilleries blend commodity spirits for their aged products. This is how a distillery like High West in Utah can produce a (very good) 21-year-old rye when the distillery itself hasn't been around that long. Not sure how this works for Pa. distilleries, though.

C.L.: You're exactly right. Smooth Ambler in W. Va. is also blending its "highly rated" Old Scout bourbon. Of course, the people there tell me it's all in the blending and selecting the spirits for those blends — and I'll say, High West's double rye is awesomely delicious. But we're still a couple of years away from seeing what the craft distillers can really do with their own aged spirits. Most of the Pa. distilleries I talk to, though, are using their own spirits, which is why Dad's is the first one to produce an aged product.

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