Jack Daniel’s, 1968

Jack Daniels 1968 Whiskey

I never really considered that tasting a Jack Daniel’s whiskey that was bottled in¬†1968 might be a possibility in the year 2016. Where would I find such a thing? How could it have escaped thirsty lips for nearly 50 years? How much would it even cost if I did find it? And, of course, how would it taste?

Well, I was recently given such an opportunity:¬†a¬†bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s, right in front of me. Clearly worn by time on the outside, but surely – hopefully – in wonderful spirit on the inside.

I didn’t find this bottle of Jack – it found me. I don’t know how it lived this long without being devoured. I have no idea how much it cost, nor the nature of any transaction involved. But I was soon about to find out how it tasted, and I quickly¬†recognized that a bottle of Tennessee whiskey from¬†1968 should not just be considered in the sense of taste, but in the sense of time.

If you look at the history books, 1968 was not a particularly good year for this world, nor for Tennessee. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles just two¬†months later. On the other side of the globe, North Vietnam launched the infamous Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and the United States. That’s a lot of awful for one span of 366 days (1968 was a leap year).

But, also in 1968, Star Trek treated American viewers to TV’s first interracial kiss. A bold (and controversial) act by three men in support of human rights took place on one of the world’s greatest stages – the Olympics. And the year came to an exhilarating finish with¬†Apollo 8 orbiting the moon and offering the world an incredible look¬†back at itself. So maybe it wasn’t all bad, after all.

In 1968, Jack Daniel’s (the distillery, not the man) was 102 years old, past the heralded Lem Motlow era, and well into the Brown-Forman years. Jack Daniel’s¬†was already much-loved in Tennessee and throughout the United States. Thirteen years prior – in¬†1955 – Frank Sinatra had famously uttered onstage: ‚ÄúLadies and gentlemen, this is Jack Daniel‚Äôs, and it is the nectar of the gods.‚Ä̬†But¬†Jack was not yet a global brand experiencing massive growth, nothing like the behemoth that it is today. That would start in earnest in the 1970’s.

So what would you expect of a bottle of Jack sent forward from 1968 into the future?¬†Would you sense the tumult of history? Would there be a glimmering sensation that man was about to step foot on the moon after just having zoomed by for a good look?¬†I had never asked myself those questions, but that changed last week when this bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s was set before me.

The setting for this taste of history was Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, itself a tribute to Tennessee’s whiskey past. Sean Brock, the executive chef and partner at Husk restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, was holding forth on the topic of Tennessee whiskey to a crowd gathered at¬†the Southern Foodways Alliance¬†summer symposium. He was joined by Charlie Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and Nashville journalist Jim Myers. And then they starting passing around little plastic cups of brown water. The gathered crowd¬†had no idea what we were in store for.

Brock has earned something of a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost hunters of rare bourbon. He has dished on the drink with Anthony Bourdain on TV, and all you have to do is look at his cabinet of collectibles in the bar at Husk to know that he is serious about tracking down – and sharing – rare and yearned for bourbons. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he had an unexpected bottle for us.

Like I said, I have no idea where Brock¬†found this bottle – this 1968 Jack Daniel’s that was now before us. I have no idea how much he paid for it, or what dark closet floor it must have been inhabiting for decades. I was just thrilled to be given a¬†chance to taste this whiskey that was born roughly a decade before I was, when stalks of corn harvested from Tennessee fields (at least I imagine so) soon met up with the limestone-rich spring waters of Lynchburg and artificial anything was nowhere in sight. GMO? What’s that? Fireball? Never heard of it.¬†

We smelled. We sipped. We savored from our small plastic cups. The 1968 Jack tasted unmistakably… Jack. If you’ve ever had Jack Daniel’s, you know what I mean. If not, feel free to remedy the situation in the near future. But the 1968 Jack also tasted unmistakably… long-lived. It had a haze of elusive maturity¬†to it, not deeper, or richer, or even necessarily better than typical Jack. But it was more full of character. Actually, yes, it was better than typical Jack. Much better. If I had to peg the age-added notes dancing on my tongue, I’d lean towards almond extract or even baked almond meringues.¬†But this tasting wasn’t about the tasting notes.

We turned our thoughts from almond aromas, and notes of caramel, to timelines and Tennessee.  We thought about what 1968 took from us, and what it left behind. We pondered the extent to which the world has taken in the lessons of 1968, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of trips to the moon. If only a glass of whiskey contained enough wisdom to answer any of that.

Closer to home, my mind turned from the historical landscape of Tennessee to one particular geographic corner – Memphis – where my late grandfather had already reached¬†55 years of age in 1968. I remembered being told that he had long ago¬†joined the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Squires¬†association, which bestowed upon him a small plot of land in ‚Äúthe Hollow, Lynchburg.” That may seem gimmicky today, but I have to think that Jack Daniel’s in 1968 was¬†simply a source of Tennessee pride in the midst of sometimes shameful times. Maybe it still is.

Either way, there’s little doubt that my grandfather sipped some¬†1968 Jack Daniel’s back in his day. That very same year, my father turned 21 while studying at Memphis State University, and had his first opportunity to legally take¬†a pour. So, as I sat in a Nashville distillery, three generations of my family¬†shared a symbolic sip, looking at once back in time and towards the future, through the¬†amber lens of Tennessee whiskey.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Nashville Tennessee

Atlanta Restaurants: In Praise of Being Bold

Ticonderoga Club
Ticonderoga Club

There is something magical happening right now on the Atlanta restaurant scene. I’m not talking about the impressive numbers of new restaurants opening up on a seemingly weekly basis – though the numbers are indeed impressive. And I’m not talking about the big names coming to town – though names like Jonathan Waxman or Sean Brock are also noteworthy. I’m talking about restaurants that are bent on being bold. Being personal. Doing things differently. Crafting experiences¬†with deeply human personalities that go beyond the surface-level sheen that so many of Atlanta’s restaurants of late have relied on.

So let’s pause now to celebrate the bold – those pioneers who may shape the very definition of restaurant dining in this city for years to come. Specifically, let’s celebrate three particular pioneering restaurants¬†who are¬†doing their thing in distinctly personal ways: the brand new Staplehouse, the barely open Ticonderoga Club, and tiny little Dish Dive, which opened just under a year ago. But before we dig in to why these three warrant celebration, it’s worth a quick detour to talk about¬†how the stage was set for their arrival.

It’s clear that the past few years of economic growth in Atlanta¬†has given restaurateurs a boost of confidence to go out on a limb. Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market both have been major engines driving restaurant openings, and neither would be here had the local economy (and the commercial real estate scene specifically) not ramped up significantly.¬†In parallel, as the number of new restaurant openings goes up and up, the need to stand out and carve out a niche becomes more and more important. At this point, we’re all slightly, reluctantly, somewhat over the whole modern-Southern-local-farm-to-table-mania that seemed to guide every other new restaurant in Atlanta over much of the past decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Miller Union, Cakes & Ale, Empire State South, Restaurant Eugene, and their great forebear – Bacchanalia – are all restaurants that have brilliantly harnessed that mania and thrilled¬†Atlanta diners in the process. But after a while, especially as the number of high profile restaurants in town increases, we simply need more diverse perspectives to have a well rounded dining scene.

Getting back to the embrace of the bold and personal that’s now happening, you could point to One Eared Stag as a precursor, with its ever-quirky personality and fearless combinations of flavors that can’t be disassociated from chef Robert Phalen. Or the completely unique, late-night-only, industry-centric Octopus Bar in EAV. Or Zach and Cristina Meloy’s Better Half, which is among the more prominent chef-driven supper clubs to have made the move to a full-scale restaurant, yet still maintains the personal touch of its supper club incarnation.¬†If I had to pinpoint one single restaurant, though, that signaled to Atlanta that it was OK to go bold, it would be the aptly named Gunshow.

Gunshow's Instagram
Gunshow’s Instagram

With Gunshow, open since 2013, Chef Kevin Gillespie and his crew took an intentionally polarizing stance on the dining experience – in a way that was meant to better connect the kitchen (the chefs) to the dining table (the patrons). One by one, the chefs cart out their creations to the dining room, explaining the dish, serving it up when they get the nod. This is not traditional dining, and, with its bare bones environment and totally unique pacing and delivery, Gunshow admittedly pisses some people off. And it also thrills a lot of people who are looking for a meal that gleefully messes with expectations (and delivers some stellar, intriguing food packed with personality in the process). And Gunshow is smart enough to know that it’s OK to piss some people off as long as you’re deeply connecting with others. Something is clearly working, as Gunshow remains one of the hardest-to-get reservations in town.

Which brings us back to three newer restaurants that, like Gunshow, are proudly waving their own particular brand of freak flag.¬†The first of the bunch, Dish Dive, made its mark by being unrelentingly small and personal. Dish Dive equals chef Travis Carroll in the kitchen and Jeff Myers manning the house. 16 seats inside. BYOB. A super-concise menu. And you can’t help but feel that it’s Travis and Jeff’s¬†(figural)¬†house you’re dining in. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.To borrow a popular expression, Dish Dive gives no f*cks about what a restaurant is supposed to be. They know what they are supposed to be, and who they are trying to delight, and they do it with aplomb.

Dish Dive's Instagram
Dish Dive’s Instagram

Meanwhile, newcomer Staplehouse furthers this idea of boldly building the restaurant-diner relationship in a few notable ways. First, they are a restaurant in service of a non-profit – the Giving Kitchen. And, while not the first restaurant to have a social mission as its underpinning, Staplehouse is certainly the most high profile. This gives them a built-in aura of true goodwill that – for those informed diners who are in on the aura – inevitably shapes the experience of dining there. You know you are supporting a cause with each ticket you purchase (more on that in a bit) and every bite you take. Even more, you know you are supporting the people who are most invested in that cause with each ticket you purchase and every bite you take. If you’re familiar at all with Staplehouse’s story, you know that the restaurant’s story is also the story of Jen, of Kara, of chef Ryan Smith. You could even say Staplehouse’s story is that of the entire Atlanta restaurant community in all its tragedy and triumph. This is a story, a dining experience, that people want to invest in.

Staplehouse's Instagram
Staplehouse’s Instagram: “Anything long lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.”

Point two on Staplehouse – did you notice that they are not taking reservations, but rather selling “tickets”? They’re the first restaurant in Atlanta to adopt the Tock ticketing system used by many of the country’s leading restaurants. You could argue that this is a business-minded step away from the personal trust inherent in the typical reservation approach, but really, this path of selling tickets just reinforces the commitment from the diner to the restaurant – when you buy that ticket, you have given them your cash, and you are in on the cause before you even step foot through the door.

Smartly, Staplehouse realized that the ticketed seats inside the restaurant couldn’t be the only way to engage with diners. They built an outdoor patio, with its own little kitchen, ready for all comers with a menu that’s more affordable than the glorious (but admittedly pricey) tasting menu inside… but every bit as creative. And Staplehouse consciously avoided giving this outdoor patio a standalone name and identity (think Holeman & Finch for Restaurant Eugene, or Star Provisions for Bacchanalia), but rather embraced that Staplehouse itself needed to have more than one way to connect with diners. Simply put, Staplehouse is approaching the mission to deepen the restaurant-diner relationship in new ways, and bridging the casual/fine dining divide in the process.

Now for what may be the boldest restaurant of the bunch… Ticonderoga Club. If you haven’t (yet) heard much about this new spot from Greg Best, Regan Smith, Paul Calvert, David Bies, and Bart Sasso, that was intentional on their part. Ticonderoga Club is the result of a long-simmering stew of hush hush ideas that started way back in September 2013 (if not earlier) when Best and Smith left their founding roles behind the bar and front of house, respectively, at Holeman & Finch. Roughly a year later, Best and Smith confirmed that they would join the party at Krog Street Market, but still the details were few, from¬†the name (which wasn’t revealed until one week before the place actually opened in October), to the very type of bar/restaurant it was going to be. Finally, now that Ticonderoga Club is open (although still awaiting signature on a liquor license as of this writing), the months of mystery are starting to make sense… Best/Smith/Calvert/Bies/Sasso weren’t just creating a bar and restaurant, they were creating an entire mythology.

Ticonderoga Club's Instagram
Ticonderoga Club’s Instagram

Mythology, you may ask? Let’s just say that the Ticonderoga Club crew’s attention to storytelling rivals that of Homer himself. And this is not storytelling for the heck of it‚Ķ the mythology here is in service of forging a bond between an establishment and its patrons. In an extensive reveal published by the Bitter Southerner, titled The League of Extraordinary Hospitalitarians, we learn that the Ticonderoga Club is actually (nix that‚Ķ mythically) the Atlanta chapter of a 249 year old organization. The mythology extends in a printed Ticonderoga Club Quarterly, packed with philosophy and silliness in equal measure. The Bitter Southerner’s Chuck Reece hit the nail on the head, though, with the raison d’√™tre of this whole elaborate backstory – which is fostering a feeling of gleeful hospitality. That won’t come as any surprise to fans of Best, Smith, and Calvert, who are all known for their skills as hosts, conversationalists, and all-around-fine-folks.

Is Ticonderoga Club quirky as hell? You bet. But isn’t it nice to see folks go out on a limb and do something different, especially when, at the end of the day, you know that they’re doing something different on your behalf? Ticonderoga Club, Staplehouse, Dish Dive‚Ķ they’re all pushing the hospitality envelope in their own clever, even magical, ways. They’re not the only intrepid trailblazers¬†in town doing so, but their lead¬†is one to take notice of and celebrate. If their bold steps lead to something great, we all win.

by Brad Kaplan, November 6, 2015

The State of Georgia Distilleries (updated)

(UPDATED: May 2017) The first legit Georgia spirits I ever tasted¬†were from Thirteenth Colony, down in Americus – a vodka, a gin, a young corn whiskey. This was back in 2011. At the time, Thirteenth Colony was one of the few craft spirits games in town (err,¬†state). But today? There are more than a dozen Georgia distilleries¬†and spirits marketers. That may sound like great progress, and it is, but… this same craft spirit boom has been happening all over the country, and Georgia is actually well behind the curve thanks to a not-quite-friendly legal environment (EDIT: It’s getting much better!).

RGP-LOGOThat said, many¬†of today’s¬†Georgia distilleries are indeed finding a way to succeed despite the¬†challenging regulatory environment. Old Fourth Distillery is thriving in Atlanta, Richland Rum is now selling their heralded Georgia rum as far away as¬†Europe and Australia, and there are a few¬†micro-distilleries like Lazy Guy getting really creative with their offerings.

Thus far, moonshine and¬†unaged corn whiskey are¬†the most prevalent¬†spirits here in Georgia. Why? Well, it fits with our heritage, that’s for sure. A good number of the legal distillers in Georgia proudly claim their moonshining roots. And there’s a good amount of locally grown corn to supply the process. But it’s also relatively quick and inexpensive to produce unaged whiskey, with no long term aging in barrels that would require extra capital, space, and patience. Beyond moonshine, though, you can find a pretty wide variety of distilled products in Georgia – from Richland’s¬†superb¬†estate rum made with their own Georgia sugar cane, to several nice vodkas and gins (Thirteenth Colony and Old Fourth), to fruit brandies (Dawsonville) that also reflect a bit of local heritage.

Here’s a list of currently operating Georgia distillers and spirits brands, noting which are currently sourcing their product vs. distilling themselves, upcoming plans for expansion, distribution footprint, and availability of tours. If you have any updates for the list, do let us know in the comments or by email, and I will keep it up to date. A handy map¬†of Georgia distilleries¬†is also provided at the bottom of the page. Cheers to drinking locally.

List of Georgia Distilleries and Spirits Brands (as of May 2017):

ASW DistilleryASW Distillery
, Atlanta, since 2011
Sourced Products: American Spirit Whiskey (currently distilled in Charleston, SC), and Fiddler Bourbon (a series of sourced whiskeys with unique finishes at ASW, plus an “unfilled” straight bourbon)
Distilled Products: Resurgens Rye Single Malt Rye Whiskey, Armour & Oak Georgia Apple Brandy, White Dog Rye Malt Spirit
Upcoming: Potentially a peach brandy using Lane Southern Orchards peaches, plus other small batch releases and additional Fiddler releases.

Distribution: GA, TN, SC, MD, PA, DC (with a strong focus on Georgia)
Tours available in Atlanta


Dalton Distillerydalton distillery, Dalton, since 2015
Distilled Products:¬†Raymond’s Reserve Straight Corn Whiskey (111 proof), Raymond’s Reserve Cinnamon, Raymond’s Reserve Gluten Free (82 proof, made from corn and sunflower)
Upcoming:¬†Raymond’s Reserve Sunflower Whiskey (also gluten free)
Distribution: Georgia, Texas, New Jersey
Tours available in Dalton


4166892Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, Dawsonville, since 2012
Distilled Products:¬†White Lightning, Georgia Corn Whiskey, Georgia Mountain Apple Pie, Bill Elliott Georgia Apple Brandy, Moonshiner Jeff’s Presidential Rye Whiskey,¬†Single Barrel Bill Elliott HWY 9 Rye Whiskey
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Dawsonville

Fruitland Augusta Peach VodkaFruitland Augusta, since 2014
Sourced Products: Georgia Peach Vodka, Georgia Peach Sweet Tea (both made with Georgia peaches, bottled in Florida)
Upcoming: working with city of Augusta to explore options on building a distillery
Distribution: Georgia

Georgia-Distilling-CompanyGeorgia Distilling Company, Milledgeville, since 2011
Distilled Products: Private label producer for Goodtime Moonshine & Vodka, Georgia Vodka, Doc Holliday Rye Whiskey, Copperhead Georgia Sour Mash, Rod and Rifle Whiskey (to be confirmed), plus Savannah Bourbon (see below)
Distribution: Various

Ghost Coast Distillery, Savannah, since 2017
Distilled Products: Vodka 261, Vodka 261 Orange
Upcoming Products: Bourbon being aged
Distribution: GA
Tours available in Blairsville


Grandaddy Mimm's

Grandaddy Mimm’s, Blairsville, since 2012
Sourced Products: (previously sourced from Georgia Distilling Co., now distilling as of 2016)
Distilled Products:¬†Mule Kickin’ 140 proof, 100 proof corn whiskey, 80 proof apple brandy, 40 proof apple brown betty, 40 proof fresh peach cobbler, 40 proof wild cherry cobbler
Upcoming: Have applied for a distilling license
Distribution: GA, TN, TX, CA
Tours available in Blairsville

Independent Distilling CoIndependent Distilling Company, Decatur, since 2014
Distilled Products: Hellbender Corn Whiskey, Hellbender Bourbon, Independent Rum, Aged Rum, Outlier Series Limited Releases
Upcoming: 100% wheat whiskey currently aging in barrel, other small batch releases
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Decatur

lazy guy distilleryLazy Guy Distillery, Kennesaw, since 2014
Distilled Products: Kennesaw Lightning Corn Whiskey, Threesome Whiskey, Cold Heart Whiskey, The General 151 Proof, Side Track Bourbon, Snow Cream Liqueur (ltd winter release), 5th Article 1887 Rye Whiskey, Embers Georgia Straight Bourbon, Lotoko Spirits
Upcoming: Other longer-aged whiskeys
Distribution: Georgia, and hope to expand to TN and SC
Tours available in Kennesaw

Lovell BrothersLovell Bros. / Ivy Mountain Distillery, Mt. Airy, since 2012
Distilled Products: Georgia Sour Mash (unaged), Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey (aged)
Distribution: Georgia

MOONRISE DISTILLERYMoonrise Distillery, Clayton, since 2012
Distilled Products: James Henry Georgia Bourbon and Georgia Rye, Corn Squeezins Georgia Corn Whiskey
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Clayton

Old Fourth DistilleryOld Fourth Distillery, Atlanta, since 2014 (read more: Old Fourth &Atlanta distilling history)
Distilled Products: Vodka, Gin, Lawn Dart Ginger Lemon Liqueur
Upcoming: Bourbon (sourced, aging in Atlanta until approximately 2019)
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Atlanta

Richland-Rum-logo-471x320Richland Rum, Richland, since¬†1999 with a major ramp up in 2012 (read more: Happy Hour interview with Richland’s Erik Vonk)
Distilled Products: Single Estate Old Georgia Rum, Single Estate Georgia Agricole
Distribution: GA, FL, SC, TN, CA, NY, NJ, PR, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Australia, and parts of the Caribbean
Tours available in Richland

rm rose distillersR.M. Rose, Dillard, since 2016
Sourced Products: Georgia Corn Whiskey, Mountain Apple Corn Whiskey, Blackberry Corn Whiskey, Fire on the Mountain Cinnamon Corn Whiskey, and Good Neighbor Peach and Lemon Whiskey
Upcoming: TBD
Shop open in Dillard

SAVANNAH BOURBON COSavannah Bourbon Co., Savannah, since 2014
Sourced Products: Savannah 88 Bourbon, Savannah Sweet Tea Lemonade Bourbon  (both from Georgia Distilling Co. Рto be confirmed)
Distribution: GA, SC

Still_Pond_Distillery_Tours-01-250x160Still Pond Distillery, Arlington, since 2012
Distilled Products: Muscadine Moonshine, Double Barreled Moonshine, Peach Moonshine, 80 Proof Vintners Vodka, 99 Proof Vodka, 229 Vodka, Peach Vodka, Apple Vodka, 229 Distilled Gin.
Upcoming: Aging brandy produced from Still Pond grapes, initial release in 2017.
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Arlington (with Still Pond Winery)

Stillhouse Creek Craft Distillerystillhouse creek distillery, Dahlonega, since 2016
Distilled Products: White Gold unaged whiskey
Upcoming: 1829 Straight Bourbon, Gold Dust whiskey, botanical gin with local lavender
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Dahlonega



thirteenth colony distillery

Thirteenth Colony, Americus, since 2009
Distilled Products: Southern Gin, Southern Vodka, Plantation Vodka, Southern Corn Whiskey, Southern Bourbon Whiskey, Southern Rye Whiskey
Upcoming: expansion of custom single barrel offerings, including unique finishes and barrel proofs
Distribution: GA, FL, SC, TN, KY, NH, VT, MI


Upcoming Distilleries…

Hope Springs, Lilburn, has filed for permits and has set up equipment, now aiming for summer 2017

Watts Whiskey Distillery, Avondale Estates, launching 2017


Updated: May 2017

Shotwell Candy Co. Caramels

Shotwell Candy Co Caramel

You want these. You really, really want these. I promise not to succumb to a “brown paper packages tied up in strings” reference (look at that packaging… brown! paper! packages! tied up in strings!), but once you try these Shotwell Candy Co. caramels, you’ll be singing their praises like a musical nun running through Alpine meadows in the springtime.

Shotwell Candy Co CaramelFirst off, these caramels are simply among the very best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a few. I was in Paris last year and made a point of stopping by the acclaimed shop of Henri le Roux, who “put the butter/ salt/ caramel combination on the map” a few decades ago. Shotwell’s are every bit as good to my tastes. (And by the way, I hate pulling out the “I was in Paris” card… yes, I’m a lucky bastard for having the opportunity to spend some time there and gorge myself on caramels and macarons and croissant and baguettes‚Ķ but I can’t help but rejoice in the fact that this tiny little American candy company is turning out sweets that would make a Parisian swoon in disbelief.)

Yes, Shotwell’s caramels are¬†an American artisan product, a Southern artisan product. Maybe you don’t give a flip, but Shotwell’s caramels are hand crafted in Memphis (my hometown), and it’s always good to see great things coming out of Memphis. I expect great pulled pork, I expect great music, but I never expected great caramels.

And finally, Shotwell is employing some ingredients that are close to my Thirsty South heart. There’s the Memphis-brewed Ghost River Copperhead Red Ale that goes into Shotwell’s Craft Beer & Pretzel caramels. Or the Memphis-roasted (by¬†J. Brooks Coffee Roaster)¬†Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee beans that go into the Hand-Crushed Espresso caramels. And, good gracious, there’s the bourbon and bitters that go into Shotwell’s “Old Fashioned” Cocktail caramels.

I first heard about Shotwell Candy Co. in a Garden & Gun article last summer, but it wasn’t until they became available in the Scoutmob Shoppe¬†that I noticed some buzz around Shotwell and was reminded that I needed to try their caramels, stat. (An aside… isn’t Scoutmob’s use of “Shoppe” a bit twee? even more twee than using the word “twee”? why couldn’t they have called it the Scoutmob Country Store, or the Scoutmob Old Country Market by the Side of the Interstate that’s Really Just a Virtual Country Store on the Internet? These are important questions.)

Shotwell Candy Co Caramel In any case, I exchanged a few tweets with Shotwell founder/operator/does-it-all, Jerrod Smith, and soon had a few brown paper packages tied up in strings (dang it) on my kitchen table. My kids and I were soon unwrapping the little brown bundles of joy and digging in with wide grins on our caramel-stuffed faces.

It’s hard to beat their original salted caramels, which settle into your mouth for a few seconds then hit you with a heavenly rush of butter and salt and sweetness that lingers long after you’ve finished a bite. Glorious stuff. But then the Beer & Pretzel version comes along, with its crunch and chew and dark brown sugary sweetness. While the original salted caramels are serene and warrant contemplation, the Beer & Pretzel caramels are like a hearty cheer amidst a raucous pub crowd. As for the Hand-crushed Espresso caramels‚Ķ have you ever had the¬†Caramellato coffee at Octane in Atlanta or Birmingham? It’s an awesome marriage of dark espresso and creamy milk and sweet caramel. And Shotwell’s Espresso caramels are a crunchier, chewier version of that. Just as awesome.

So check out Shotwell’s website¬†and order some for yourself. They’re better than cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles‚Ķ yes, Shotwell’s caramels are indeed some of my favorite things.

More pretty pictures of brown paper packages tied up in strings below:

Shotwell Candy Co Caramel Shotwell Candy Co Caramel Shotwell Candy Co Caramel

Tales of the Cocktail 2013: Part Deux

Thirsty South man in the field Scott Henry is in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail 2013. Scott is an amateur tippler who applies his training as a journalist ‚ÄĒ more than a decade writing, editing and drinking for Creative Loafing Atlanta ‚ÄĒ to pester barkeeps across the country about their cocktail recipes, their mixing techniques, that bottle I don‚Äôt recognize on the third shelf ‚Ķ no, the one behind the Becherovka, just to the left of the Peat Monster ‚Ķ

Yesterday morning, Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman dropped into the media lounge and got into what likely was one of many discussions over the course of the week concerning the much-debated question of whether Tales has gotten too big.

Czech herbal liqueur ice fountain at a free tasting event
Czech herbal liqueur ice fountain at a free tasting event

She explained that the number of seminars did not increase since last year, having held at 59 ticketed events over five days. But while the seminars are the heart and soul of Tales, they‚Äôre far from the only happenings that define the convention for many people. Most casual Tales-goers will attend only a handful of seminars ‚ÄĒ which typically cost $55 apiece ‚ÄĒ but are likely to drop in on perhaps a dozen or so of the tasting rooms, where distillers and distributors hand out cocktails, food and swag, all for free.

That’s to say nothing of the tastings that take place in the street outside the Monteleone Hotel, the parties at various locations around the French Quarter, and the arguably gimmicky peripheral events, such as the pedicab-trip-and-a-shave promotion sponsored by a single-barrel Scotch.

It’s these sorts of distributor-driven events that have driven many bartenders to complain that Tales has gotten too big and too commercial in recent years. And, from a purist’s perspective, they might be right. But I tend to think it’s not its size that gives the convention its character, but its tone. And that, with some exceptions, has remained pretty consistent.

Certainly, the seminars haven’t been dumbed down. If anything, they’ve gotten more scholarly. Just today, I attended one seminar about the flavor profiles of curacao, Cognac, Dutch genever and other popular spirits of the early 19th century, and another on the colorful history of the Prohibition-era bar scene in Havana. A friend of mine went to a seminar on the history of ice. I’ll repeat that: the history of ice.

And even when the sillier tasting events and product launches threaten to get out of hand with freebies and spokesmodels in tight T-shirts, there‚Äôs still a focus on the taste and/or the craftsmanship, not the buzz. For instance, I stopped this morning into a tasting for various spirits produced by the St. George Distillery of Alameda, California. I sampled cocktails employing their new pisco, the name of which escapes me, their assertive Terroir Gin and their Breaking & Entering Bourbon ‚ÄĒ the last in a whiskey milk punch, perhaps the closest thing there is to liquid crack. In other words, there was ample opportunity to get hammered, but the event was convivial but low-key, with patrons asking about recipes and botanicals.

At nearly every such event, there are knowledgeable liquor reps to tell you exactly how the spirit is made and, many times, even the company founders themselves, who can share trade secrets on their distribution travails and their upcoming releases.

So, Tales continues to grow. But, speaking as a veteran who’s been here several times since 2007, I’d say it’s evolving rather than devolving.