What is NGS or GNS?

GNS or NGS is the holy ghost of the booze world.  My comfort is this blasphemous metaphor comes from the complete lack of definition and overwhelming pervasive nature of this spirit.


Grain Neutral Spirit or Neutral Grain spirit, is an industrial product distilled from anything or a mix of things.  The most likely culprits are corn, sugar cane and beets.  These are chosen because of their  high sugar content and their rock bottom prices.  NGS is eponymously neutral.  It is distilled up to 190 proof or 95% alcohol by volume to ensue maximum efficiency of distillation and flavorlessness.  It is an industrial product, there were you in Brazil, would be used to fuel a car or if you were in the Navy, would be used to clean boat engines.  If you’d like to start a vodka brand, you could use it for that too.

The majority of vodkas that come from distilleries you have never heard of are, most likely, in order of possible quality:

  1. NGS & Water -redistilled & filtered
  2. NGS, Water & Glycerin -redistilled & filtered
  3. NGS, Water, Glycerin & Sugar -redistilled & filtered
  4. NGS & Water  & filtered
  5. NGS, Water & Glycerin  & filtered
  6. NGS, Water, Glycerin & Sugar  & filtered
  7. oh, and some people add critic acid and chemical flavorings like “truffled butter waffles”

You might notice those last 3 or 4 involve combining industrial product water and calling ‘er done.  And that’s fine if the price on the shelf says “less than $15 because this is tantamount to floor cleaner.”  Unfortunately, often, that is not the case.

NGS is indeed the friend to scoundrel micro distillers of “vodka” but it also is essential for using as a base in gin, absinthe or liqueurs.  Classic style gins want a neutral base upon which to paint a botanical picture and liqueurs need a neutral base to well, not make them just juice & sugar.

NGS, the industrial workhorse, provides us with many lovely products and many affordable ones.  It is also what allows the infinite shit storm of flavored vodkas and tasteless marketing stories that take the form of vodka.  True, they all have different productions, but I challenge the finest palate to tell us the difference between Donald Trump’s Vodka & Flava Fav’s.


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The New Cocktail Vernacular: LDI & MGPI


I taught an American whiskey class a couple months back and all of the young people asked about LDI.  It was like they had heard rumors that Santa wasn’t real, but the didn’t want to believe the hurtful whispers.

“Tell us, Mr, Whiskey Man, is it true that there are whiskies out there that don’t have their own distillery?”

Rather than take the Woodward & Bernstein approach to LDI, how about we tell the story from the creator mother point of view?

“Gather ’round young people and let me tell you of the mother distillery, it is in Indiana and since way back in 1933, it was run by the mythical people of the north (Canadians/Seagram’s), it made whiskey for all the little boys and girls but then the north people traded (sold for parts) the mother distillery to the fancy people from across the sea (French/ Pernod Ricard) and they made whiskey until they lost their way and neglected the mother distillery and it almost died until a magic angel (MGPI) breathed life into it again once restoring whiskey for all the land”

And the world was green and verdant

And the world was green and verdant

Does that make sense?  There is a company called Midwest Grain Products and Ingredients or MGPI that owns one of America’s biggest distilleries called Lawrenceburg Distillers of Indiana or LDI.  MGPI is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ if you want to get in the alcohol futures game.  LDI likely makes over 100 american whiskies, parts for scores of Canadian whiskies and more industrial grain alcohol than you’d need to clean every aircraft carrier engine in the US Navy and leftovers to get every kid in the PAC 10 drunk.

Why am I not railing against this?

Because I don’t give a fuck.

Blending is an art all by itself and if you buy celebrity vodka brands (often also made at LDI) then you have worse problems than ethical purity for distilling.  Many people buy old stocks of aged whiskey from LDI, blend it to perfection, and create a brand.  Many more just buy, bottle and say “fuck it.”  Your opinion of the bourbon/rye/american whiskey is all that matters.  Ask Sku to tell you where things come from, he has a great blog explaing who makes EVERY American whiskey.


The last note on this is when you read a bottle, understand that “produced by” does not mean “distilled by.”  If it’s important to you, or if some asshole is talkin’ ’bout his ol’ pappy’s secret 95% rye mash bill to can always ask, “where was this distilled?”

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The New Cocktail Vernacular Mexi-Wrap-Up-Rant -The acronym suite is next

The New Cocktail Vernacular Mexi-Wrap-Up-Rant

So there were a few new words you, as an avid and constant drinker, should know.  But don’t let Mezcal, Pechuga or Raicilla fall victim to what happened to tequila in the 90s.  That is to say, don’t let them get so bogged down in minutia & mediocrity that they don’t matter anymore. One of the ways to prevent this is with the stories we tell.

Some worthless piece of shit recently asked me “how long is the fermentation process on that specific tequila?”  I bullshitted my was out by explaining that most agave naturally ferments for 7 to 14 days but what I wanted to say was:


When I write in this blog, I write to give you basic information.  People writing encyclopedias need information like that, it’s relevant, but only to 1 out of 100 people.  If you are into quantification, I applaud your brain and there will be more computers for you to talk with everyday.  However, the only stories worth telling about a bottle are anecdotes to sell, briefly explain said bottle or tales of what happened after drinking said bottle.



For a while, tequila (and wine) was really proud of listing brix levels.  This does not matter to the end consumer, brix are correlative to flavor and is something that farm hands are concerned about.

If the most interesting thing, about your tequila (or wine) is its brix level, then you have already failed.

As soon as someone mentions a tequila’s (or wine’s) brix I then know “I’m going to judge the shit out this tequila (or wine) numerically and conquer it.”

Tell stories, not numbers.

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The New Cocktail Vernacular: Raicilla

Up until 2014, there was really only 1 way for Americans to get raicilla:

The Legos pictured above are actors and were over 21 at the time of this photo shoot.

The Legos pictured above are actors and were over 21 at the time of this photo shoot.

When I first had raicilla, it was because I was looking for mezcal in a shitty beach bar in Sayulita.  I actually had the 1 bartender (in a town of 50 bars) in the town that didn’t speak (perfect) english but I used the might of my high school/ restaurant  Spanglish to communicate:

“Yo soy un cantinero.”

All of a sudden an unlabeled milk jug appeared and we started doing shots of raicilla.  I was told

“Is like tequila.”

And by asking for more everywhere I went, and later finding out about its dubious legal status, almost strictly an illegal moonshine, I found out I was basically saying the cultural equivalent of:

“Hello, I am a bartender from America.  I understand your town makes a lot of artesian meth or crack, either way, do you know anyone who makes it and if I can buy some?”

Raicilla, is a type of mezcal, that much like American moonshine, was born out of a desire to dodge taxes.  In the 1780s, the term “raicilla” was coined to avoid taxes that were being levied on tequila.  This ruse worked on the Spanish crown at the time and later became an illicit tradition.

Raicilla is made of many different agaves like inaquindens, augustifolia, rhodecantha and more!  I have only ever had 1 type that actually had a label on it, but of the many I’ve had (cross referenced with other agave-philes) raicilla is normally rustically distilled, once or twice in pot stills and clay/copper/wood hybrids thereof.  It has flavors like eating smoked bacon that was fried in fino sherry.

And, it will be imported into America for the first time later this year. Stay tuned for more, or go to Mexico, hop onto a bar stool, and start asking for illegal hooch and see where the night takes you.

Stoned surfers really helped grow the raicilla industry

Stoned surfers really helped grow the raicilla industry

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The New Cocktail Vernacular: Pechuga

Pechuga has the ferocity of a toddler’s finger painting and the purity of a forest fire. And with that metaphor in mind, let the standards of judging a pechuga be equally complex.  Specifically, a pechuga is a harvest celebration mezcal.  Think of its production the same way gin is made, a completed spirit is reintroduced into the still with botanicals and redistilled.  There are 2 twists: the “botanicals” in pechuga’s case are fruits, grains and/or nuts; each recipe is unique to each Palenque and instead of gin’s constant: juniper, pechuga’s constant is a chicken breast.



This is the “Lucky Charms Cereal Box” diagram of pechuga


A chicken breast is hung inside of the still from the top of the swan neck*, supposedly, to mellow the spirit as the evaporated distillate passes over it.  You won’t really see pechuga  in cocktails, but it’s on more back bars everyday.  The reason that it’s important (aside from trendiness & peculiarity) is that pechuga is a spirit that inspires the drinker to look for new flavors in their dram, other than vanilla-harsh-smoky-smoooooooth.  Using those adjectives for spirits are  like calling water –moist-wet-slippery-watery. And in revisiting a pechuga, you get a field guide to the flavors you are searching for.


When you say "pechuga" try to say it like Al Pacino would

When you say “pechuga” try to say it like Al Pacino would

Pechuga also changes with each harvest, this technique bridges the gap between vintage wines and artisanal spirits.


*So much as there is a swan neck in mezcal, rustic stills take many forms and not often that of the copper giants of single malts

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It’s not that tequila isn’t important anymore but it got really boring compared to its junkyard dog cousin – mezcal.  Mezcal isn’t necessarily more rough n’ tough by definition, but before I get into that, wouldn’t it be better if dogs explained it?

mezcal vs tequila explained with dogs

mezcal vs tequila explained with dogs – P.S. Espadin is the Wolf

mezcal vs tequila explained by dogs 

Mezcal is that parent classification that tequila is within; tequila is a very specific type of mezcal.  Mezcal is for bartenders &  bartrenders, so if you don’t like it, no big, I bet a lot of the cool kids can’t tell when it’s shit or shinola either.  Traditional mezcal is going to have a very aggressive flavor due to its, well, traditional method of production.  But, if the base level gnar-gnar, acidic, smoky, astringent or oily spirit is your jam, you’ll find infinite options in single varietal expressions of all ages, terroirs and distillation styles. Fuck conformity.


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The New Cocktail Vernacular

The New Cocktail Vernacular

I hate to burst your bubble but when you are using a new “word-a-day” calendar, all your co-workers can tell.  All of a sudden, the new marketing plan is “insipid” instead of a “shit box.”  But hey, it’s alright, you are looking to better yourself and there are great words out there and seemingly new words created everyday.  In the sprits world (where I skulk about) there are as many new trends as there are bloggers to write about them.


The “information” of so many new drinkables is crushing and worse yet, we don’t really know how to talk about them.  All of these new products, terms & trends are confusing but demystifying them is important because I don’t want a 37th tequila brand owned by some rich asshole made at the same distillery that already made a cheap tequila I liked .* And if that trend is going to keep happening, it’s good to have a way to articulate my/our irritation via a prodigious lexicon – instead of just saying “fuck that guy.”

Also, there is a terrible trend in the service industry I call “burdening your guests.” Recently we have gotten to a point where chefs say:

Rocket, Sunchoke, Gold Sultanas, Acetic Acid & Sucrose

And they shouldn’t have to explain more to an experienced dinner, but it’s rude to not say more (or just say less).

just a fucking salad with fucking raisins

just a fucking salad with fucking raisins

Bartenders, in an effort to cultivate their own worth & mystery have started to follow suit with things like:

Small Batch Bourbon, Wormwood Infused Wine, Cinchona Tincture & Preserved Maraska

manhattan cocktail

just a fucking manhattan

But I’ll help you decode.

What I have in store for you is a “word-a-day” blog post so you can catch up with the new words featured on your favorite cocktail menus.  This list is basically harvested from a word bubble of my  “most interesting or rant worthy” questions from the past 2 years of teaching. And in word-a-day calendar style, I’ll try to keep these definitions short, you can research more on your own and feel free to explain-a-brag further in my comments section.


*see entry #4 that explains “NOM” coming soon

Here are the 1st 12:

New Mexican Suite

  1. Mezcal
  2. Racilla
  3. Pechuga

New Acronym Suite

  1. LDI & MGPI
  2. NOM
  3. TTB & FDA
  4. NGS or GNS
  5. FNG

New Vodkas

  1. Complex Character Vodka
  2. Moonshine
  3. Charcoal Filtration
  4. Juniper Vodka

And many more to follow…

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