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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

 

 

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John on Wine –

Spotlight Winery Distillery: American Whiskey and Greenway Distilleries

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Walking into Germain-Robin’s distillery during June’s A Taste of Redwood Valley event, the aroma of apple and pear fruit, as brandy distilled, perfumed the air in a way different than the gorgeous aroma of a winery’s barrel room – richer and more pungent – these were aromas so big they penetrate beyond mere smell sense, but touch your soul.

On that day in June I met Crispin Cain.

Crispin Cain

Crispin runs the American Whiskey Distillery, Craft Distillers, and Greenway Distillery, all distilleries within a distillery, co-located at Germain-Robin. Passionately answering all questions and proud of his products, Crispin poured his pre-prohibition styled clear malted rye whiskeys. Gins, absinthe, and rose liqueur.

Crispin applies the handcrafted cognac method, improved by Hubert Germain-Robin and Ansley Coale in Mendocino County, to distilling his whiskey and the result is breathtaking.

From the craft distillers website, “Whiskies are spirits distilled from grain: barley, rye, corn, wheat. The grains are prepared in various ways, including malting and drying, to convert starches into sugars. Water is added to create a mash,’ which is fermented to convert the sugars into alcohol. Distillation can be on either potstills or column stills.”

I tasted the 2010 single barrel malted wheat, 84 proof and single barrel #1-100 proof whiskeys.

I bought a bottle of Crispin’s Russell Henry London Dry Gin, distilled from wheat. It tasted of sweet candied juniper berries, with notes of lemon peel, cardamom, and iris.

Crispin also served up a bowl of Absinthe ice cream, homemade using the Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, which is made by Crispin.

That 20 minute visit led to a subsequent longer visit with Crispin where he gave me a tour, tasting, and did his best to expand on the frighteningly rudimentary knowledge of distilling I had gleaned from television’s Moonshiners, aired on the Discovery Channel.

Crispin told me he jumped at the chance to interview with Hubert to be his assistant, and worked in that capacity from 1989-92, moving to Redwood Valley winery Gabrielli in 1993 and 94, before coming back for most of 1995 through 2000. A back injury in February 2000 set Crispin back “really bad” and unable to work, he went through his savings until with just $500 and an idea, he convinced Ansley to let him come in to Germain-Robin and set about making what would become Crispin’s Rose Liqueur.

“It took until 2003, three years, to get what we have now,” explained Crispin, as he poured a taste of his rose liquor for me. Not perfumy, not sugary sweet, but an intense infusion of old David Austin and Don Juan rose petals in an apple honey mead brandy, with underlying notes of raspberry and chocolate.

When I told my friend Margaret Pedroni that I had tasted Crispin’s Rose Liqueur and was undone by it, she described it as “sex in a glass,” which is the perfect description. Both the dictionary definitions of “lovely” and “delicious” feature a picture of a Crispin’s Rose Liquor bottle.

“I intended the Rose and Absinthe to be a part-time job,” Crispin said, before adding, “this is where my passion is.”

Today, the role of distiller consumes Crispin full time, and his wife and children also work in the business.

Making whiskeys, liqueurs, gins, vodkas, absinthe, and more, Crispin engages in a blend of science and art that to me seemed a little like the potion and concoction making of a wizard or magician.

 

Barrel of aborted alien fetuses

Happening upon a vat of gnarled Buddhas Hand citron fruit, used for flavoring a vodka to be released this fall, did nothing to dispel the impression. The tools of his trade, the cognac stills, one as old as 1830, round copper pot stills, and many windowed column stills, further lend a mad scientist feel to his endeavors.

The math and methodology of cognac style distillation was a little more complex than what the television show hillbillies go on about. A first distillation of grain mash results in the brouillis, which Crispin hesitated to show me because it is somewhat off-putting, a blue blend of alcohol and water with sugars and fats not wholly resolved. The brouillis reduces the original mash volume to just 25 -30 percent, and that is reduced in a second distillation in a separate still to just 25 percent again. Barely over 8 percent of the original mash volume is left, but this is the heart of the heart, with barely 3/10ths of one percent sugar left. Cutting the high proof spirit with collected rainwater can lower stratospheric alcohol levels. Move the spirit to a barrel, perhaps new oak, for a year or more, and we’re talking some amazing whiskey.

Occilation Overthruster - Early Model

While most whiskey is colored by the oak barrel it is held in, Crispin has some clear whiskeys. Crispin’s Low Gap Clear Wheat Whiskey was named the Whisky Advocate’s 2012 Artisan Whiskey of the Year and his absolutely clear malted rye whiskey spent just 204 minutes in a used neutral barrel so it could legally be called whiskey. These are incredibly smooth and flavorful spirits.

Crispin took me through his whiskey barrel room, where some of his spirits are aging and picking up color. A great variety of barrels were assembled; Bourbon, Limousine, Cognac, and Minnesota were well represented. Crispin shared that his dairyman grandfather got barrels from the same barrel maker in Minnesota for his (illicit) distillations of grains, fruit juices, honey, and whey; the dairy smells, butter and cheese, hid the smell of whey fermentation and distillation.

For the second time, we tasted two finished whiskeys that have graduated from barrel to bottle, Low Gap Single Barrel No. 1, an incredible 100 percent malted wheat whiskey running at 100 proof, and Low Gap Single Barrel No. 2, that made me say “yum” and running at 84 proof. These are drier whiskeys with very little sweetness, but amazing for their cleanness or clarity of flavor.

Crispin pulled a sample of 94 proof gin that was being barrel aged. It blended the bright flavors of gin with the color and weight that comes from time in a barrel. Barrel color for a gin was unusual for me, but really no more unusual than clear or uncolored whiskeys.

Another barrel sample, of rye whiskey, was smooth and oh so tasty, the rye flavors were almost like candy. Crispin opened a container of the rye malt and it was wonderful to smell the aroma both before and after distillation. Crispin’s rye whiskeys were far and away the best rye whiskey I’ve tasted.

Promised future tastes include a candy cap mushroom liqueur, barrel aged seven years, in apple honey spirits.

Visiting with Crispin and tasting through his spirits is worth the price of any A Taste of Redwood Valley event. The next ATORV event will be their big holiday weekend sale, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-24, 2013. Look to this column for ticket information as we get into the fall season.

For more information about Crispin’s many spirits, or to try to schedule a tasting appointment, call (707) 468-4661.

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John Cesano writes about wine and reposts his columns to JohnOnWine.com

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