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June 2016

Millard Fillmore

Dear friend of fine spirits,

MILLARD FILLMORE. This delight is in response to many many requests for a Germain-Robin brandy to use in cocktails. Three years in development, it’s a blend of our precious potstill brandy with a very nice brandy distilled in the Central Valley of California on a continuous still. The Millard has a bit of extra oak so it can show up when mixed. (40% abv, $35). If you want a sipper, step up to the Craft Method.

THE EXCEPTIONAL BLEND. First release: It’s a blend of mature grain and malt whiskey casks selected with the help of Willie Phillips, formerly Managing Director of Macallan. The grains are from North British, Strathclyde, and Cameronbridge; the malts are from Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Balvenie, Kininvie, Glenfiddich, Alt-a’Bhainne, Auchroisk, Glenallachie, Westport, and Speyside, and include a 30-year-old Macallan. Incredible smoothness, depth & complexity. Finished in first-fill sherry casks, this is one of the finest whiskies on the market. BTW: the Exceptional Malt was recently included in Paul Pacult’s list of the 25 best whiskies he has ever tasted (43% abv, $120).

ALIPUS SAN BALTAZAR. For those of you who miss this soft and tasty mezcal, we have a few bottles from a pallet shipped by special order to our Texas distributor (47% abv $50).

MEZCAL ALIPUS ENSAMBLE. A batch of complex/very clean mezcal from Don Valente Angel at San Andres, 80% espadin, 20% local wild bicuishe. Gotta love bicuishe – great flavor/nice focus. Good buy at the price (47.3% abv, $65).

ALIPUS SAN MIGUEL. A small batch of espadín blended with 20% semi-wild arroqueño & distilled in clay by Leonardo Rojas of Potrero. Arroqueño intensity tamed by distillation in clay. Scarce: only 360 bottles in the shipment (47.6% abv, $65).

MEZCALERO NO. 16. Don Valente Angel at his best, working with local semi-wild madrecuishe (agave Karwinskii). Focused and extremely clean: a master distiller at work. (47.1% abv, $96).

MEZCALERO SPECIAL NO. 2. I tasted this last September during a discussion about whether good mezcal ages better in oak or in tank. Don Valente said, not in oak, and brought this out as an example: wild dobadaan (agave rhodacantha), taken from a nearby south-facing hillside, after three years in tank. Hector Vasquez and just looked at each other: ethereal. On the label it says, accurately, the best mezcal in bottle. There are 736 bottles (47.4% abv, $135).

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April 1, 2016

When Congressman Tim Huelskamp (RTimHuelskamp-KS) suffered a stroke and died in a remote Kansas motel in 2009, his son Tim jr., who had a jaundiced view of politics, worked with a group of fellow students at the nearby Norton Institute of Taxidermy to conceal his death and to assemble a stuffed animatronic replica; they announced that Huelskamp had suffered a stroke and laid bets as to how long the prank would go undetected. Within the automaton was a duck trained to peck one of four buttons when it heard a “trigger” word. The buttons were linked to four brief recorded speeches: “Islamic Terrorists”, “Border Security”, “Government Over-Spending”, and “Our Boys Overseas”. When the duck matched the correct button, a mechanism released a tasty pellet. At the end of the day, the duck was released for several hours in ponds near the Congressman’s residences in Arlington and Topeka. Those who noticed Huelskamp’s awkward gait, lack of spontaneity, and wooden facial expression laid them to the aftereffects of his stroke. He was maneuvered by actresses dressed as nurse aides; money came from the automaton’s continuing to draw Huelskamp’s congressional salary. The automaton completed Huelskamp’s term and was reelected unopposed in 2010. However, during a 2011 House rollcall on a bill to eliminate the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the automaton was observed squatting in the aisle next to its desk and flapping its arms, as if laying an egg. During the ensuing commotion, the duck began to quack loudly and repeatedly pushed all four buttons. The next day, the automaton was removed from its seat by vote of the House, 37 congressmen voting nay because of Huelskamp’s consistent party-line voting record.

Dear friend of fine spirits,

ANNUAL SALE: Save money so you can pay your taxes: take 15% off any bottle, 20% if you buy 12 or more, through May 10, 2016.

Liqueurs have a bad name, earned by being represented by awful renditions like Chambord. Almost all the leading brands are over 30% sugar; according to nutrition sites on the web, a bottle of Grand Marnier contains something like 42 teaspoons of sugar, close to half a pound; Kahlua uses over 50% more sweetener, including corn syrup. Sweeteners allow producers to mask the low quality of the alcohol used, which is why such products have the reputation of causing tough hang-overs.

It’s too bad. The purpose of liqueur is to be able to put great ingredients, like fresh fruit juices, or good coffee, or macerated orange peel, in a bottle by adding alcohol to 20-25%, which prevents decay or oxidation. If you use care, and well-made alcohol, and excellent ingredients, a bit of invert sugar to deal with the acidity/slight bitterness of say fresh raspberries, you get something that is wonderful to drink. Most folks chill them slightly.

When we pour at tasting events, frequently the most popular item, the one that folks send their friends back to the table to taste, is Crispin Cain’s Rose Liqueur or the Germain-Robin Pear de Pear or the Infusion Works Seville Orange, which is essentially a 37% liqueur under the sobriquet “flavored brandy”.


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February 2016

Harry Houdini performing his Great Milk Can Escape, 1908 (Library of Congress).

Born Erik Weisz (in Hungary), Houdini changed his name to recall the great French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. His specialty was escape acts. He was for many years the highest-paid perfomer in the US and also starred in several movies. Much of Houdini’s later life was devoted to debunking spiritualists.

Houdini died following a ruptured appendix in a Detroit hospital in 1926, age 52. There is live footage of several of his acts.  He once taught his dog “Bobby” to escape from a pair of miniature handcuffs.


Dear friend of fine spirits,

Just arrived: Mezcalero no. 15, a 100% semi-wild Sierra Negra (agave americana) from Baltazar Cruz in San Luis del Rio. Sierra Negra has a beautiful suavity in the mouth, with a long finish; this version is nicely fruity. It’s a big batch, too, almost 1128 bottles.

If you go to, next to each product there is a tab “video”. The tab takes you to a short video segment of me talking about the product: how it is made, how it tastes, etc.

I urge you to try the truly extraordinary Low Gap Bourbon, distilled on the antique 17HL Germain-Robin cognac still and aged entirely in new bourbon barrels. It is, simply, one of the best bourbons out there.
Things to look forward to in 2016:

Germain-Robin now has a cellar rich in brandies from individual grape varietals that are 8-12 years old: pinot noir, colombard, semillon, zinfandel, viognier…. Joe Corley will draw on this wide range of distinctive flavors and aromas to assemble a series of Once Only blends, a barrel at a time, one-time releases of XO-level brandies. First releases will be in late May. We will also release small bottlings of Just Passing Through.

Don Sutcliffe will be bringing in more bottlings of The Exceptional Grain and the Malt; the 1st release of the Blend will be in May or June.

From Oaxaca, in addition to a year’s worth (4) of Mezcaleros, we will be getting a Los Nahuales Special distilled from wild Cuishe and the very rare Sierrudo (April) and in June a Mezcalero Special no. 2, an insanely fine Madrecuishe from Don Valente in Santa Maria Pila that has developed three years in a holding tank. Mezcal seems to respond extremely well to resting after distillation.

Regards/Ansley Coale

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November 2015

Artillery_At_The_somme copy
Near the Somme during WWI (

An estimated 8.5 million men died in combat during the war; many more were wounded. 90% (!) of the men mobilized by Austro-Hungary were casualties or prisoners of war, aggregating 7 million. The large numbers were due largely to the disparity between technological development in weaponry, such as the machine gun and large scale use of heavy artillery, and military tactics, and also to deaths from infectious disease.

The artillery piece on the cover is being dragged along a railroad right-of-way, a more solid roadbed. Note the trench in which the men struggle, excavated for the purpose (soil thrown up to the left) to provide better traction. The clumsy blocks attached to the wheels were a form of the “dreadnaught” wheel, patented by James Boydell in 1846 (2nd photo) and used on horse-drawn wagons in the Crimean War.

Civil War general William T Sherman uttered the famous words “War is Hell” addressing the graduating class of a military academy in 1879. He is reported to have wept as he spoke them.

Dear friend of fine spirits,

Lots of goodies this month The DSP CA 162 Cranberry vodka is 100 cases only of a seasonal item that took us better than a year to develop. It’s Clear Creek’s cranberry liqueur (from Oregon fruit) blended into the Buddha’s Hand citron. Devin Cain thought it up and did the developmental work.It’s is worth buying: $38. Here’s me talking about the process:

Mezcalero no. 14 is here: spicy intensity of wild & semi-wild arroqueno softened by distillation in a clay pot-still, from Jesus Rios from the tiny pueblo of Potrero. I regret that the rapid rise in the price of agaves forced us to raise the price to $96, still a very good deal for the quality.

Don Sutcliffe’s The Exceptional has released an extraordinary blended malt, assembled with the help of Willie Phillips, who ran Macallan before it was bought out. The components include a 30-year-old Macallan; it was finished in first-fill Oloroso casks. Amazing quality for the price. $110.

The Old & Rare Barrel 154 is a truly spectacular brandy. We distilled it in 1985 (30 years ago!) from old-vine chenin blanc harvested from the terraced Wegner vineyards, south of Ukiah. Left in the barrel was less than half of what we put into it: evaporative loss, which has deepened and concentrated the flavor and aroma to a beautifully intense focus – yet it’s still soft. This belongs among the best distilled spirits on planet Earth. 120 bottles only. $600.

Crispin Cain has just bottled two wonderful whiskies. The Low Gap 4-year-old Wheat, from 2010/11, aged in three kinds of oak, displays a soft wheat mouthfeel with a surprising maturity: $75. The Low Gap Bourbon, aged entirely in new bourbon barrels, is astonishing. Almost all bourbon I have tasted is somewhat rough on the finish and overly oaked. Crispin’s is a model of what whiskey should be, flavorful and appealing. Three early tasters told me it was the best they had ever experienced.

Check out Just Passing Through.


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Streecar1931On the afternoon of July 7, 1931, a B.M.T. Putnam Avenue trolley jumped its tracks at the corner of Nostrand and Putnam Avenues and rolled into the Weiner drugstore at 401 Nostrand Ave. There were six injuries. Trolley accidents were frequent: this was the 5th in Brooklyn that week.

There were so many trolleys in Brooklyn that residents were derisively called “trolley dodgers”, which is where the name of the former Brooklyn major league baseball team (uprooted by the infamous Walter O’Malley, lower left) came from. The Dodgers name first appeared on team uniforms the next year, 1932. On the day of the derailment, they beat the Phillies, 5-1. Note the many straw hats in the upper photo (from the July 8, 1931, Brooklyn Eagle): it was summertime.

Dear friend of fine spirits,

The 2015 releases of Old & Rare brandies will appear in the November catalogue; we will email about them on October 1. HOWEVER, anyone with $600 and a taste for one of the best and most unique brandies on the planet should call us (1-800-782-8145) and reserve a bottle of the Barrel V154 Chenin Blanc, from 1985.

Finally, Pear de Pear, 2nd release, scheduled for a year ago. Joe Corley took 18 months to perform craft-method magic on pear distillate that was a touch underflavored (a grower may have overwatered his orchard); it includes a maceration of buttery Boscs. Even richer than the original. A bargain.

Single-barrel V320 is a gorgeous and highly aromatic Riesling distilled from lees wine in 1998. The focused intensity is astonishing, yet the brandy is ever so soft. Now that we have old ones, we are wishing we had, way back, distilled more brandies from aromatic grapes: Riesling, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Viognier. We are buying more of these grapes now, but it will be 15 years before we can use them in say the XO.

Low Gap 4-year wheat whiskey includes some of Crispin’s earliest distillations (2010) and has been through sophisticated barrel work. Unbelievably soft. A Bourbon will arrive in December.

Last month, I saw a store mailer for a 1.75L bottle (the size Popov comes in for supermarkets) of Hangar One: $27. The 750ML – less than 1/2 the size – used to go for $35-38: very high-quality stuff is expensive to make. The Vodka DSP CA 162 is superior to the original H1 bottlings; I recommend the subtle & complex Citrus Medica (Buddha’s Hand citron), which can be sipped at room temperature, like good brandy.

I have been shooting short video segments about our spirits and how we make them, many appear next to the listings on the C&W website. They are collected at Lots of tech production info; many more are on the way.

Regards/Ansley Coale


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JUNE 2015

jUNE 2015
Armageddon-like moments near Kalamazoo.

On January 23, 2015, starting about 9:15 AM, some 193 vehicles were involved in a massive pile-up on both sides of Interstate 94 between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Michigan. One of the trucks was carrying a load of fireworks; it caught on fire shortly before noon.

There exists surreal footage of skyrockets bursting in the afternoon blue sky above the carnage at Click here to watch.



Dear friend of fine spirits,

Scotch lovers: The Exceptional Malt has just come arrived. It’s one of the best I have ever tasted: balanced, complex, full of flavor. The Exceptional Grain (2013) was the 2nd-best spirit Paul Pacult (spirit journal) tasted among all the hundreds he received, 2013-14.

Our immodest claim: the finest mezcal in bottle is Alberto (Don Beto) Ortiz’s Mezcalero Special Bottling no. 1, distilled from wild hillside south-slope madrecuishe.  I happened to taste it on a visit to his distillery: he was holding it until someone wanted to pay extra for it. Are you kidding? I contracted for it on the spot.

Jeff Kessinger’s superb Firelit coffee liqueur has come our way: he had to move from his original distillery and recently went back into production near Napa. It’s about a perfect mix of great coffee and just enough brandy. The beans in this batch are from Papua/New Guinea: deep true-coffee flavors/aromatics.

We ran out of the Maison Surrenne 1946 so we had a few bottles air freighted in.

 Mezcalero no. 13 is on its way from Oaxaca as I write: a tepeztate (rich & spicy) & tobalá (fine and elegant) mezcal.  From San Luis del Rio., Mezcalero No. 14 will arrive in September.

Devin Cain cleans the 17HL cognac still after each run of Low Gap whiskey. Reviewers often tell us it’s the cleanest whiskey they see. The Rye is an amazing distillate and a real bargain.

In response to many enquiries, I announce with regret that Flossie the Cat (cover of April catalogue) was an April Fool invention. The dog-cat xenotransfusion on page 1 was however true.

Regards/Ansley Coale


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APRIL 2015


Flossie, whose weight is estimated by a large-animal veterinary at “45 stone”, or 630 lbs (Reuters).

This enormous cat, raised by the family of Albert Billings, a Shropshire (UK) farmer, was of normal size when born but reached 15 pounds in six weeks. Flossie’s tail was docked when she reached 150 lbs because it was damaging household objects; the tail itself weighed 17 lbs.

Billings now keeps the cat in his barn (below), where it consumes about a bag and a half of dry cat food each day. Billings covers his costs by charging admission to see the cat (now 3 1/2 years old) on weekends and by selling its feces to a specialty fertilizer supplier. When it purrs, the sides of the barn vibrate visibly. It once attacked and seriously injured a cow.


Dear friend of fine spirits,

Save money to pay your taxes: take 15% off any bottle, 20% if you buy 12 or more.

    Mezcalero no. 12: agave cupreata. I commissioned this mezcal after tasting a cupreata mezcal at an event in Oaxaca. Cupreata (or papalote) is a wild agave that does not appear in Oaxaca state; it grows only in a relatively confined area of mountainous terrain in Michoacan and Guerrero states at some 3500-5500 feet. Los Danzantes turned to Emilio Vieyra in San Miguel del Monte (Michoacan), who captured and perfectly balanced the slight copperish overtone that gives the agave its name. Our Texas distributor liked it so much he bought the entire bottling; we held 72 bottles for this catalogue. It will go fast; limit two per customer.  “Los mezcales se parecen a su tierra, a su gente”, says Vieyra.

Russell Henry Dark Gin. I say simply, buy this: if you don’t think it’s among the planet’s finest spirits, a friend will. It’s the London Dry after spending a year in oak, and you cannot prepare yourself for how it tastes, unique and extraordinary. Something magic happens when all those redistilled botanicals spend time with one another, slowly oxygenating through those quiet oak staves within a bath of beautifully prepared alcohol.  We have about 100 cases, most of it fully allocated to distributors, 96 bottles held for this catalogue. Limit two per customer.

I retasted the Infusion Works brandies, bottled about a year ago. Sitting around has made them even better, way more than we expected. They are perfectly balanced, with beautiful fruit (or spice) intensity. Try the Seville Orange and you will never buy Grand Marnier (25% sugar) or Cointreau (33%) again.

Check out the December posts on the Craft Distillers Facebook page: some good stuff on artisan raicilla.

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THE COFFINS OF SALOMON ANDREE AND COMPANIONS, Stookholm, October 5, 1930 (Wikipedia).

The Andree expedition, 1897, tried to fly a balloon over the North Pole, ignoring millions of pin-prick leaks in the silk fabric and the total lack of human knowledge about Arctic wind-patterns.The flight, whose cargo Included 20 kilos of chocolate cake, lasted about 52 hours. Andree and his two companions then dragged a boat over the pack-ice for 3 months, living mostly on polar-bear meat, ending on the tiny island of Kvitoya, where they shortly died. Their last camp was discovered by a Norwegian expedition in 1930. Almost all of Andree’s diary (English translation in Andree’s Story, 1931) and some undeveloped film survived: see the photo at left. The balloon was called ørne, “eagle”.

Dear friend of fine spirits,

Last fall, K&L, an excellent Bay Area liquor store, put up 3 extensive blog posts on Germain-Robin:

1 & 2 focus on the Old & Rare releases; the third is an indepth interview with the gifted Hubert Germain-Robin.

Mezcalero no. 11 has arrived, from Alberto Ortiz (“Don Beto”) of Bramaderos. The semi-wild agaves are Madrecuishe (nice touch of acerbity) and Mexicano (dobadán, floral/spicy). Don Beto’s destileria is the tidiest I have seen, and this mezcal is very cleanly made.

Two fabulous whiskey releases from Crispin Cain: Low Gap 2-year Rye and Low Gap 100 proof. The rye has a bit of malted corn: nice body. The Germain-Robin 16HL cognac still brings out subtle flavor and finesse with the usual rye richness. Better than most 10-year-old ryes. The 100 proof  is a 2-year old Bavarian wheat aged in Crispin’s three best new and used American oak barrels. Spectacular product: nice intensity.

Alipus San Baltazar is no longer being exported to the USA.

Some of the small American casks used for Low Gap had unusually significant evaporative losses compared to the Limousin oak casks used for Germain-Robin, likely due to a more open grain. We will now use the Limousin for Low Gap: subtler.

A couple of pricing notes: the Germain-Robin Old Havana has gone to $120, reflecting the use of older brandies in the solera; there are minor price increases in Los Nahuales and Alipus due to increased agave prices in Oaxaca.

Best regards/Ansley Coale/Craft Distillers


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A Colobus monkey, Colobus guereza, with infant.

The mantled Colobus, native to equatorial Africa, is a gregarious herbivore, first recorded by a European in 1833. Adult weight is some 15-25 lbs; life-span is 20-30 years. The ecological niche is eating stuff that is hard to digest, such as twigs and mature leaves; the monkeys have evolved complex stomachs. They spend more time than usual sitting around, apparently in extended digestion. Their territorial calls, not easily forgotten, are recorded at

Dear friend of fine spirits,

Late September we poured at San Francisco’s Craft Spirits Fair. We had maybe 20 spirits up. Three of us poured as fast as we could for 4 hours: amazing. People coming to the table would ask what I like best. Here goes:

Russell Henry London Dry is great gin (Pacult thinks it’s the 11th best spirit in the world), but I really enjoy the Hawaiian Ginger (infused into the same formula): incredible gin & tonic.

Of the DSP CA 162 vodkas, it’s the Buddha’s Hand: delicate, long, nicely structured. You can sip it like good brandy.

Of the Germain-Robin bottlings under $200, it’s the Single-barrel Muscat: focused, intense, unforgettable. There’s not much left.

Infusion Works Seville Orange. Like one of the tasters said, this is what Grand Marnier wishes it was: better brandy, way less sugar, beautifuly complex.

Old & Rare Barrel 351 is, aside from a 1987 Chenin Blanc we’re releasing next year and the single-barrel viognier we had 4 years ago, the best distilled spirit I have ever tasted. Beats me how it can so perfectly combine intensity with delicacy. I know, I know… 600 bucks! Hey: a bottle is 50 1/2-ounce pours, each costing $12, each pour an experience which can last 30 minutes.

We are holding about 20% of the Old and Rare releases for you folks (tasting room and mail order). About six weeks ago, a store got the mailer and wanted to buy every single bottle….

What do I drink almost every day? Mezcalero.



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Harrison-Odjegba-OkeneHARRISON OKENE, who in 2012 spent 60 hours trapped in an air-pocket 100 feet under the sea.  Then 29, Okene, cook on a tugboat servicing Nigerian oilrigs, was awake at 4:30 AM when the boat capsized and sank, coming to rest upside down, with the stern on the ocean floor at 32 meters. He moved around inside until he found a large airpocket and built a platform to help hold himself half out of the water.  Okene’s flashlights failed after 24 hours, leaving him in total darkness. He could hear fish eating his crewmates. He did a lot of praying. He was rescued on the afternoon of the third day by divers looking for corpses. “I was calling on God. He did it”.

There is live video of his rescue, showing Okene as found in the air-pocket, at

Dear friend of fine spirits,

One of our favorite blogs, Serious Eats, had some nice things to say about Vodka DSP CA 162: “will challenge your very perception of what a flavored vodka can be”. If you remember what happened the first time you tasted Hangar One, before the brand was bought: it’s like that again, and even better. These are serious vodkas.

On the Germain-Robin’s Old & Rare page you will see a list of new releases, a series from their amazingly rich cellar. One of the reason old spirits can be so good is that evaporative loss concentrates the flavors. We lose about 1 1/2 – 2% a year; the GR/30 is less than half or its original volume. These brandies represent the purified essence of perhaps the finest grapes ever used for distillation, now concentrated and deepened by decades of maturation in air-dried Limousin oak. I can write without blushing that several of the Old & Rare series are among the best spirits ever bottled.

Are they expensive? Sure. Worth it? Yes: they are in fact bargains compared to other products of their age, quality, and scarcity: equivalent cognacs and malt whiskies cost in the thousands of dollars. The Single-barrel releases in particular are extremely good values.

We will start to ship the Old & Rare on October 1, but you can pre-order by calling Sue Miller at 800 782-8145. The limit is two bottles of any one release. We are holding back significant amounts for you, our direct customers. Feel free to call me at 707 468-7896 if you have any questions about these brandies. I especially recommend the Barrel 351.