Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Trust Labels More Than Bragging

I was perusing a heavily-advertised superstore in upstate New York the other day, a wine and spirits emporium near fabled Saratoga Springs — a great business location when the historic thoroughbred horse racing season runs in August through Labor Day and lots of money comes to town.

The establishment's ads trumpet the claim that it has the best selection, the best prices and the newest offerings. In my experience, none of the three claims can be verified.

Particularly the latter.

When the only stock on the shelves for certain brands is at least a year out of date, all other claims are suspect.

One that particularly struck me was Plymouth gin, the iconic English distillation that some months ago came out with a sleek, modern gorgeous bottle to replace its stodgy old one.

The stodgies were the only thing representing the brand at this superstore.

That's why I like to call to your attention to any significant changes in various liquors' labels, bottles or branding efforts.

One of the most recent is the change by Whaler's Rum. Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., the Bardstown, Ky., company that produces the line of Whaler's Hawaiian-style Rums, wanted to differentiate its flavored rums from its classics. Thus, the new labels use higher-impact graphics for Vanille , Killer Coconut, Pineapple Paradise and Big Island Banana, but a more traditional style is used for the Spiced, Original Dark, Great White and Rare Reserve Dark rums.

The latter rums' packaging features the ships of the Hawaiian seafarers for which the rum is named. The new labels for the four flavored rums utilize colorful label designs to more effectively communicate the names and flavors while maintaining the package equity of the previous version. The Flavored Rums are among the most popular rums within the Whaler's franchise.

Reid M. Hafer, brand manager, said, "The legendary Hawaiian recipe of Whaler's was discovered when seafarers rattled vanilla beans in empty rum bottles at sunset as a way to entice migrating whales to their ships. The friendly whales guided them to the tropical haven known as Hawaii. There the sailors discovered the old rum makers of Maui and were so impressed by the exotic taste of their rum that they called it Whaler's."

Heaven Hill, founded in 1934, also includes among its holdings The Christian Brothers Brandies, Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, HPNOTIQ Liqueur, Burnett's Gin and Vodka, Dubonnet Aperitif, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, Agua Luca Brazilian Rum Cachaca, and various Scotch and Canadian whiskies.


Heaven Hill creating new collection      

If the name Parker's Heritage Collection doesn't ring any bells for you, wait until September.

That's when Heaven Hill Distilleries will introduce a limited-edition, 12-year-old bourbon as the first product in a series named for co-master distiller Parker Beam, right.

The special whiskey was aged in barrels given an extra-heavy char, which brings out greater hints of caramel and vanilla flavors.

HH spokesman Larry Kass, who said the series is aimed at whiskey connoisseurs, noted, "It is an opportunity for us to regularly release limited quantities of extra special, unique styles of American whiskeys that people are very excited about right now."


Woodford Tempering Bourbon With Wine

It's not uncommon for winemakers to season their products in used whiskey barrels, but Woodford Reserve has put a twist — for American distillers — on that practice with its new Sonoma-Cutrer Finish.

The experiment, which will go for $90 a bottle when released later this month, involves tempering the equivalent of 900 cases of Woodford Reserve bourbon for several months with used California chardonnay barrels from Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA. Both the distiller and the winemaker are owned by Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky.

The new product is the second in Woodford Reserve's new Master's Collection that began with its Four Grain Bourbon, a 92.4 proof product retailing for about $80. It incorporated wheat into its rye/barley/corn mash bill for that undertaking.

The Master's Collection line will be augmented from time to time, always with triple distillation in copper pot stills at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Historic Landmark in Woodford County, Ky. Even the whiskies' bottle will mimic the shape of a copper pot still.

"The Master's Collection honors the pioneering work of our forefathers by applying their handcrafted methods to unique grain recipes, maturation techniques and distillation styles," said master distiller Chris Morris.

Some Scotch and Canadian whisky distillers regularly employ used wine barrels for some of their products.

Morris said he settled on a five-year-old bourbon for the new product, rather than the usual seven-plus which her termed "too robust to get the nuances of the contribution of the Sonoma-Cutrer to shine through."

Brown-Forman says the new Sonoma-Cutrer Finish will be sold in New York,

California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.


(William M. Dowd covers beverages at and travel at

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