Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kentucky's moonshine goes mainstream

Distillers producing potent white whiskeys

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CLERMONT, Ky. -- The world's largest bourbon producer is dipping into moonshining's colourful past to create its own batches of white whiskey.

Beam Inc.'s newest spirit is called Jacob's Ghost in honour of Jacob Beam, founding distiller of its flagship Jim Beam brand. Jacob's Ghost resembles the potent concoction that flowed from the pioneering whiskey-maker's still in the 1790s or from a moonshiner's still today.

But this is no run-of-the-mill hooch brewed in the backwoods.

"We have perfected the whiskey recipe that Jacob created," said Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe, a descendant of Jacob Beam. "Jacob's Ghost is not a moonshine."

Jacob's Ghost, made at Beam's distillery in Clermont, Ky., is an 80-proof whiskey aged at least one year in a charred, white oak barrel.

Moonshine and other white whiskeys generally go right from the still and into the bottle.

Beam says the aging adds flavours from the wood that are missing in unaged whiskies and moonshines. The process also gives the product a faint yellow hue.

Bourbon matures in the same type of barrels but for much longer, resulting in its caramel colour and smooth, distinctive taste.

Beam, based in Deerfield, Ill., is tapping into a white whiskey category that amounts to a drop in the bucket compared with Kentucky bourbon sales. But white whiskey has started to carve out a niche, thanks to regional craft distillers producing clear whiskey.

And it could lead to some friendly arguments over who churns out the best white whiskey.

Spencer Balentine, who makes a white whiskey at Silver Trail Distillery in far western Kentucky, has sipped Jacob's Ghost.

"It's good," he said. "But it's not as good as my brand."

Beam competitor Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., maker of Evan Williams bourbon, has had its own line of white whiskeys since 2011.

Heaven Hill spokesman Larry Kass said sales have met and in some cases surpassed expectations, but compared with its other brands, white whiskey sales have been modest. Its clear whiskeys are unaged bourbons, rye whiskey and corn whiskey.

Beam started shipping its white whiskey recently, and the product will reach liquor stores and bars nationwide in coming weeks. Beam won't reveal production levels or sales expectations, but company senior executive Rob Mason said the product has great potential.

"We believe this is going to create significant growth in the white whiskey category," he said.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 B11

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