Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Jack Daniel's trio

stats: Jack Daniel's Old No.7 - Tennessee Whiskey, 80 proof, $20
        Gentleman Jack - Tennessee Whiskey, 80 proof, $29
        Jack Daniel's Single Barrel - Tennessee Whiskey, 94 proof, $44

Let me start off by saying that I've never been a big fan of Jack. "Too expensive for mixed drinks and not good enough to drink straight" pretty much sums it up. But I have been impressed by some of the higher end offerings from JD, so I thought it would be good to do a comparison of these three. And just for the record, Jack is not Bourbon. Although it meets most of the many requirements that define Bourbon, it is run through sugar maple charcoal before going into barrels. This is considered an added flavor and precludes it from being a Bourbon. It is actually in a separate category of American Whiskey - Tennessee Whiskey (George Dickel is the only other Tennessee Whiskey).

So, on to the tasting. First up, the Old No.7. The aroma smells, well, distinctly like Jack. On the palate it's a little flat up front, with most of the flavor coming on late in the finish. It's a little harsh, perhaps a bit astringent, and at best out of balance. I wouldn't call it awful, but it's just not that great.

Next up, Gentleman Jack. The bottle says "twice mellowed", so I guess that means it gets run through the charcoal twice. I would assume it spends more time in the barrel than the regular JD too, but none of these carry an age statement. Although the flavor profile is very similar to the Old No.7, the flavor comes on a little sooner, making it seem fuller. I would say it is smoother and much better balanced, perhaps with a bit more oak influence. While it might not be my first choice of drink, I could sip on this without complaint.

Last up is the Single Barrel. Single barrel whiskeys are the U.S.'s answer to single malt scotch. With a massive number of barrels aging in warehouses, they are tasted regularly to see how they are maturing. When the master distiller comes across an especially high quality barrel of whiskey, it is set aside, usually aged a bit more than normal, and bottled individually, becoming a single barrel whiskey. When normal whiskeys are bottled, many barrels are first married together, which allows the master distiller to create a final product that tastes consistent from bottle to bottle. With single barrel whiskeys, that consistency is given up for quality. So, the taste of Single Barrel Jack may vary a bit from bottle to bottle. How does it taste, you ask? There's not much aroma (actually that goes for all three of these, maybe it's just the glasses I'm using tonight). Being at a much higher proof than the first two, I'd expect this to have a lot more bite. But it really doesn't, it's just much more full flavored. It has a lot more depth and balance. While it still tastes like Jack, the classic Jack flavors are minimized, and the oak becomes more predominate. This is good quality whiskey and worth seeking out.

I know that I said I wouldn't call the Old No.7 awful a little higher up this page, but after tasting the Single Barrel and going back to it, awful was the first word that popped into my head. And while the Gentleman Jack seems highly refined compared to regular Jack, it is not in the same league as the Single Barrel.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thomas H. Handy

stats: Straight Rye Whiskey, 132.7 proof, 8 years 4 months, $50

This is the same whiskey as the 18 yr Sazerac that I wrote about last year, but with less aging, and bottled at barrel proof. That means the whiskey is bottled directly from the barrel, with no water added to reduce the proof. And at over 132 proof, it's got a hell of a kick. My mom tried to taste this one. When the glass approached her lips, her free hand shot up over one eye, and she screeched "Aghhhh, the vapors burned my eye!!!" I think my mom should stick to chardonnay. If I had to describe this whiskey with one word, it would be "intense". Powerful aroma, big burn, lots of flavor. This is a great whiskey, beautiful spicy rye flavors in a bold package, with a strong finish that just keeps kicking. Not for the novice drinker. Named after the bartender who first used rye whiskey instead of French brandy in the Sazerac cocktail.

Macallan Fine Oak 15yr

stats: single malt scotch, Speyside, 86 proof, $65

Most single malt scotches are aged in used oak barrels. Some use former Bourbon barrels, others use barrels that once held sherry. Many scotches are made from a marriage of whiskies from both types of barrels. The Macallan's standard line is aged exclusively in sherry barrels. But sherry isn't as popular as it once was, and it's used casks can be hard to come by. So a few years ago, Macallan introduced the Fine Oak line, which is aged in both sherry and bourbon oak. I actually prefer this to the standard line, which is dominated by the wine flavors of the sherry casks. The nose is fairly mild. On the palate it's malty with floral and grassy flavors up front. It quickly gains strength, with the initial flavors being balanced with wood flavors and spiciness, which continue on into a long evolving finish. Overall, an exceptionally smooth, well balanced scotch with a nice array of flavors from start to finish.

Old Weller Antique

stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 107 proof, 7 year, $19

This is a "wheated" bourbon. What does that mean? By law, bourbon has to be made from 51% to 80% corn. The rest of the ingredients must be a combination of barley, rye or wheat. Most bourbons use 5% to 10% malted barley, and rye for the remainder. A few brands, including Weller, Van Winkle, and Makers Mark use wheat in addition to the corn and malted barley. The wheat tends to add sweetness and a softer character to the whiskey, where rye adds spicy flavors and a bolder character. Of course, there are several other factors that can influence the flavor of a whiskey. The Weller Antique isn't what I'd expect from a wheated bourbon. It's big and bold. The nose isn't too impressive, it's kind of harsh. There's a bit of a burn on the palette, but there's enough flavor there to balance it out. The flavor is big and quite spicy. It's simple, nothing subtle or delicate about it. Not very complex, but still well balanced. It has a nice long finish, with the spicy flavors really hanging on. Overall, a good straight forward whiskey at a reasonable price.

Sazerac 18yr

stats: Kentucky Straight Rye, 90 proof, $50

Well, it's the 4th of July, and I couldn't think of a more appropriate day to drink and write about Rye. It's the original American whiskey. And before prohibition, it was the most common type of whiskey made in the US. Classic whiskey cocktails, like the Manhattan (which dates to the 1860's), would have originally been made with Rye. A lot of people think Canadian when they hear Rye. This is probably because in Canada, a whisky with a very low Rye content can be called Rye Whisky. But in the US, it's got to have at least 51% Rye to be called a Rye Whiskey. So they really aren't the same. Okay, enough of the history lesson, on to the whiskey. The color is a a nice deep amber, and the nose hints of the spicey flavors to come. I've tasted six different Rye whiskeys, and they all have a similar flavor. It's spicey (a bit peppery), but there's more to it. It's hard to describe, and I guess uniquely Rye. And this whiskey is full of flavor. Not just the spicey Rye flavors, but plenty of oak too (as would be expected from an 18yr whiskey), and not sweet like most Bourbons. It's powerful and intense, but well balanced with a long finish. Rye whiskey practically dissapeared in the decades after prohibition, but it's been coming back strong in recent years, and the 18yr Sazerac is leading the charge.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20yr

stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90.4 proof, $90

I turned my computer off, poured a glass of 20 year old Pappy and started folding laundry. One sip and I knew I'd have to turn the computer back on and start writing. The first thing that I should explain is that bourbon is aged in new charred oak barrels (by law), and scotch is generally aged in barrels that have already been used to age some thing else (bourbon, sherry, etc). The more times a barrel is used, the less effective it becomes. So 20 years is really old for bourbon. This whiskey has a beautiful deep amber color. The red tones on the label probably accentuate the color in the bottle, but it still looks great in the glass. It's got an inviting nose that will temp you to tilt the glass right back for a taste. Initially sweet, but then the wood flavors begin to dominate (as well they should after 20 years in oak). While the wood flavors dominate, they don't overpower. The spirit has enough of its own flavor to keep everything in check. There's a bit of a burn, but in a good way, in a warm tingling way. The intitial sweetness gives way to a mildly dry finish, a wonderfully long meandering finish. Overall, a great whiskey that has lots of flavor, but is still very smooth.

Auchentoshan 21yr

stats: single malt scotch, Lowland, 86 proof, triple distilled. $106

When I first tried this whisky, I was a bit disappointed. Now that I've drank most of the bottle (no, not tonight, over several months), it's really grown on me. I think my initial reaction was caused partly because it was a style of scotch that I hadn't come to appreciate yet, and partly because my expectations were very high after paying more that $100 for the bottle. It's surprising that a delicate (triple distilled) whisky can be aged for this long without being overpowered by wood flavors. The flavors are very well balanced which makes me suspect that it's been aged aged in barrels that were already used several times. It has a nice, floral, malty nose. Despite the absence of peat flavors, this whisky still has plenty of backbone. A nice combination of grassy, floral, honey and malty flavors, which are well balanced by the toasty oak notes. Overall, a great, flavorful whisky that I could sip on all day.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

stats: single malt scotch, Islay, 96 proof, no age statement, non-chill filtered. $45

Back in the day, some scotches were put in fairly small barrels so they could be transported by packhorse or mule. As the barrel size goes down, the percentage of the liquid inside that is in contact with the wood goes up, speeding up the maturation process. The folks at Laphroaig have recreated these quarter sized casks, and used that to finish aging some of their whisky that had already spent time in regular sized casks. The result is brilliant. My favorite of all the heavily peated scotches I have tried so far. And unique, aging for less time in a smaller cask definitely has a different effect than aging for a longer time in a traditional size cask. It has a good clean peaty, malty nose. Velvety, creamy texture, big flavor. The smokiness is sharp and intense, but not harsh. Great balance of flavors between the peat, the malty sweetness, and the oak, with a bit of brine. Super long, lingering finish. It just keeps going, reverberating. The smell of the empty glass the next morning puts a smile on my face.


Welcome to my blog. I'm here mostly to pontificate about the whiskeys of the world. But if I'm inspired by a beer or a wine, I reserve the right to ramble on about the aforementioned. Even the odd rant or recipe is fair game, but mostly I'm just here for the whiskey. 

Some might wonder why the "e" in parentheses in the title of my blog - In Scotland, Canada and Japan, its spelled Whisky. In Ireland and the United States, its spelled Whiskey. Whisk(e)y covers them all, as do I.

Back in 2007/2008 I blogged a bit about whiskey on a social network which shall remain nameless (for the sake of my own embarrassment). I'm going to copy those seven posts here to get the ball rolling.