Past Finds

We write regularly about rare spirits we've uncovered, which you'll see below. These updates are posted a bit after they're sent to our mailing list, ensuring dedicated customers get first option to purchase rarities. If you'd like to get on the list, please do—and feel free to contact us with specific requests.

Ichiro’s “Milwaukee Club” American Whiskey, 25th Anniversary


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“Whisktropolis”


9 Years Old
53.5% ABV
Single Barrel
237 Bottles Produced

The only American whiskey that famed Japanese distiller Ichiro Akuto has ever done. Bartender and owner Shinichi Shirai and Ichiro created the spirit exclusively for the Milwaukee Club bar and tasting group in Saitama in honor of it’s 25 Anniversary.

000000004821Under strict bourbon regulations distillation took place in January of 2006 in Lawrenceburg, KY (though the actual distillery name remains protected by a NDA) it was locally aged for six years. The whiskey was then transferred to new oak barrels subjected to a higher char, under the direction of Akuto-san, to strengthen the profile as it was moved to Ichiro’s distillery in Chichibu to be aged for an additional three years.

Make no doubt about it, this is a full fledged bourbon! Ichiro’s understanding of Chichibu’s climate motivated the cask change and his respect for Kentucky’s climates prompted him to label it as American whiskey. During the final three years in Chichibu the whiskey experienced severe evaporative loss leading to its bottle strength of 53.5%.

Cinnamon roll, orange tart, bergamot, mint chocolate and dried apricot all shine on the nose and palate. A truly one of a kind American whiskey taking advantage of two specific micro-climates and over seen by one of the greatest distillers in the world.

Viparo; Metello Morganti’s Umbrian Amaro of Terni

post-4-1141261949Probably one of the most underrated and little known amari is Metello Morganti’s “Viparo”. Birthed in 1912 in the scenic town of Terni in central Umbria, where it is still produced today, it was initially prescribed as medicine for digestive problems though later classified as an alcoholic beverage in 1934.

Morganti "Viparo Tonico" Terni of Umbria, 1.5 Liter Mags

Metello Morganti “Viparo” Amaro Terni of Umbria 1500ml, 20.9% ABV, 1990’s

A trained pharmacist Metello created his elixir with a delicate co-maceration of fruit, herbs, roots, caramelized sugar and flowers in chestnut barrels for in excess of 5 years. Its perhaps this regiment that makes it such a balanced and harmonious expression. The name “Viparo” comes from the Latin “vis-paro”, translating loosely as “generates forces” or “generates strength”.

Perhaps not by coincidence in the 1930’s workers of the Terni steelworks used to go to Metello’s pharmacy to consume his amaro before beginning their shifts. During the second World war there were numerous testimonies of soldiers who were consuming Viparo as well.

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The Citta de Alta, or “A City on High” of Terni. Many of the ancient smaller towns have this feature that commonly house the oldest parts of the city.

Anecdotes aside, by the middle of the last century production began in bottles and still follows the original recipe to this day. Today, Morganti also produces fruit liqueurs and maraschino, but Paul Morganti, grandson of the founder, remains mainly focused on his family’s bitter.

Fratelli Branca Fernet 1970’s

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Fratelli Branca Fernet

La Fontana, Milan (Lombardy)
750ml, 1970’s, 45% ABV

Invented by Bernardino Branca in the early 19th century, Fratelli Branca still produces the most recognized brand of fernet in the world. Taking note from smaller producers in northern Italy, such as Angelo Gentile and Felice Vittone, Bernardino and his brother solidified their market presence with the construction of their first facility in 1845.

The truth, as is the case with so many types of amaro, is that there isn’t a single individual that can honestly be accredited with the creation of fernet. The name its self loosely translates to “clean iron” in the Milanese dialect eluding to clean blood or a blood tonic, something that was commonly marketed in northern Italy going back to the 15th century.

IMG_0422Other historians of the subject, such as Leno Rubini of Romano di Lombardi, believes it refers to the long metal rods that were once used to stir the essential saffron as it caramelized in cauldrons prior to maceration. Now in his 70’s Leno spent 30 years working at the now defunct Giardi distillery of Bergamo, once a short ride from his home.

Regardless of its origins Fratelli Branca has played a critical role in fernet’s production, refinement, marketing and distribution. Bottles bearing the world and eagle crest have been manufactured and shipped all over the world for over a hundred years.

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In their golden age Fratelli Branca operated production facilities all over the world including 10 in Europe to meet local demand. One of Bernardino’s cousins, Giuseppe Branca, even operated one in Tribeca of New York City which lasted through prohibition selling its production as a potable bitter for health.

With the advent of modern shipping, technological advances in production and ever evolving management Fratelli Branca consolidated all of their production in Milan and Buenos Aires by 2000.

 

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Map detailing the breadth of production in western Europe during Branca’s apex. Some 10 distilleries shipped and produced for 3 continental markets.

 

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The Branca crest and logo over the entrance to the main loading dock at their facility in the La Fontana of Milan. This is one of the two remaining production facilities in the world, the other is in Buenos Aires.

 

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The multiple square block facility of Milan ages all their fernet on site in Slovenian oak barrels that can exceed 100,000 liters in volume. The ones showcased on the left are the oldest and while not used anymore are essential to the structural integrity of the building.

Like many time honored products production shifts and changes over the years, Fernet Branca is far from an exception. The most noticeable difference between current production and those from decades before is alcohol content. Bernardino originally conceived his fernet at an ABV of 45%, since the 1990’s it has been proofed down to 39%. A logical motive for this would have been Fratelli Branca’s desire to increase the product it could bring to market at a lower cost of goods. Regardless the flavor profile between the two expressions is night and day. The higher ABV leads to higher solubility of the organic compounds macerated in the spirit allowing for a much deeper concentration of flavor. Also noted is the far less palatable “mentholated” character that is often associated with the brand.

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In addition to lowering the alcohol content Fratelli Branca made other noticeable chanfernet 2 clearges to their production. The essential component of aloe ferrox (pictured above to the left) was reduced dramatically. The dried resin of the plant was used for its aid in digestion, color (it should also be noted that caramel coloring is now used as well) and a distinctive sandalwood/cedar aromatic.

The original process of co-maceration was also discontinued in favor of single maceration. Simply speaking this means that all the botanicals are independently macerated in different mediums, volumes and temperatures (pictured above and to the right is an example of individual tanks at Fratelli Branca in the reparto decotti e infusi a caldo or decoctions department and hot infusions) and later blended.

The result is a far more disjointed expression, despite the aggressive barrel regiments they still adhear to. Fewer top notes standout and dominate the rest of the flavor in older bottles and despite the higher ABV the heat is far less present.

Campari Bitter of Sesto San Giovanni


Campari Bitter, Sesto San Giovani, Milan (Lombardy)

1980’s, 700ml, 25% ABV

Vintage+CampariThe most recognized version of Bitters di Torino Gaspare Campari’s (1828-1882) bitter spans a 156 year history making it one of the longest continually produced bitters in the world. While by no means the first person to make the style, others out of Torino such as Canetta and Graubardt pre-dated him, he was the first to codify and market it beyond small home and pharmacy production.

Inspired by the 8th century beverage alkermez (still produced today but normally destined for pastry applications, such as zuppa inglese, due to its sweetness and intense floral notes.) Gaspare crafted a much drier and bitter style which he first began to sell under the name Bitter all’Uso d’Holanda in 1840.

Like alkermez Campari’s bitter took advantage of cochineal, or kermes, a small parasitic insect from which the drink derives its color. He was far more restrained in the use of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg instead focusing on myrtle-leaved orange (citrus myrtifolia) and the bittering agent cascarilla (croton eluteria). Altogether the bitter contained more than 60 some herbs, roots and spices.

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Southern entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade between the Palazzo Marino and Duomo in Milan. Built between 1865 and 1877 under the design and guidance of Giuseppe Mengoni it became the birth place of the “Camparino” (Campari Bar), notice the signs bordering the entrance in and around 1915.

By 1860 he had changed the name of his bitters to Campari, relocated to Milan and eventually opened his iconic cafe in the newly constructed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade in 1865. The drink was rumored to have grown in popularity so fast that it was necessary for him to cellar carbonated water underneath the cafe as a more economical way to craft Campari and soda, the preferred method of consumption.

Gaspare passed away in 1882 leaving his sons Davide and Guido to take over the cafe and the production of Campari. With this second generation came the first construction of offsite production, in 1904, allowing them to produce on a scale allowing export to the rest of Europe.

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Gaspare Campari in September of 1877. He moved into the Vittorio Emauele II Gallery where he sets up is home, his restaurant and a wine shop on the corner looking towards Piazza Duomo. His son, Davide Campari, later becomes the first citizen of Milan to be born in the Gallery. A lesser known fact is still that fact that he was tending bar by 14 in his home town of Cassolnovo.

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Campari’s initial plant, opening in 1905, with in the neighborhood of Sesto San Giovanni in northwestern Milan. Directly situated on the train lines running north from the stations of Milano Centrale and Milano Greco Pirelli, essential when Davide Campari began to aggressively export the brand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gaspare Campari (pictured second from the right) and family, including his son Davide, who would follow in his foot steps (pictured fifth from the left).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next 100 plus years were ones of exponential growth and success. Davide debuted new brands including Campari Cordial and a bottled Campari and soda in 1932. Along with these innovations Campari launched one of the most impressive post-war advertising campaigns ever devised featuring some of Italy’s favorite film stars including David Niven, Humphrey Bogart and Nino Manfredi. By the 1980’s the now Groupo Campari was a family powerhouse and began to branch into ownership of additional spirits labels. Today that includes Appelton Rum, Wild Turkey Whiskey, Skyy Vodka to name a few.

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The 2000’s marked the beginning of change for this legendary bitter and in many ways it was victimized by its own success. In an effort to increase volume of production and lower their cost of goods production of Campari was moved to the massive, new, 200,000 square meter facility in the southern Piedmonte town Novi Liqure. Able to produce over 160 million bottles a year, employing nearly 130 people Groupo Campari had spent some 51.7 million euro on the property.

Eager to jump-start their returns additional changes were made cumulating in 2007 with the removal of cochineal in favor of artificial coloring, the lowering of the ABV to 24% and the use of liquid extracts as opposed to the solids that the flavor was originally based around. Bottles that were produced at the original plant in Sesto San Giovanni and in accordance with Gaspare’s original recipe are something truly special. Broader and deeper in flavor, at its original ABV and with out the one dimensional bitters that some connoisseurs associate with the current product.

Zara and Luxardo; The Dalmation Coast and its Native Liquor


Luxardo Maraschino
Torreglia (Veneto)
1950’s, 1000ml, 32%

Almost exclusively produced in Italy, aside from some very recent domestic U.S. production, Maraschino has its origins on the Dalmatian coast of current day Croatia.

luxardorealIn the mid 1759 Francesco Drioli, a Venetian merchant, began industrial-scale production of maraschino in Zara, Dalmatia (at the time its was a part of the Venetian Republic). Following production practices outlined in Sartori Fasuto’s Arte dell’Acqua di Vita (one the most important books on Western European distillation sourcing information from various producers over some 200 years) he transformed the popular tradition of home maraschino distillation into a refined industry. Obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries, the small and slightly sour fruit of the Tapiwa cherry tree (cerasus acidior),  native through the Dalmatian coast.

By the end of the 18th century his maraschino had already gained widespread fame and had cornered the major markets in Europe.

zararealThe iconic square greenish bottles were supplied by Murano glass factories and in the early 19th century the straw cover was introduced. This was a typical Venetian method for transporting bottles on long sea voyages and would come to define the brand over the years.

As the reputation of Maraschino grew, so did the name of Zara, which prompted other factories to emerge and become established, particularly that of Girolamo Luxardo who began 1821.

luxardo-maraschinoWith surviving the First World Was the bombing of Zara during the Second World War and and eventual transition to Yugoslav sovereignty the owners of the three most important distilleries, Vittorio Salghetti-Drioli, Giorgio Luxardo (Girolamo’s son) and Romano Vlahov, sought refuge in Italy and rebuilt their businesses in Mira, Torreglia, and Bologna respectively.

By 1946 Giorgio Luxardo had already resumed production, he answered the demands for modernization which a radically altered post-war period called for. With in the same period was the death of Vittorio Salghetti-Drioli, sixth and last heir of the Dalmatian branch of the historic founding family of the maraschino industry of Zara. This ended the two hundred year history of the Francesco Drioli factory, the oldest Italian liqueur company. The company was bought by the Società Finanziaria Europea spa. from Milan, which suspended production shortly afterwards and then closed the business, laying the brand to rest in 1980.

With in the new birthed void of maraschino production Luxardo was primed to dominate the marked and has continued to do so till this very day. In contrast to its original production: the maceration time of the cherries in Larchwood has been shortened and new modern pot stills have replaced the originals.