Reader Question: American Whiskey Tasting

Kevin, 

I have been a reader of your blog for the last few years. First of all thanks for taking the time to do it. I have a question that I thought you might have some opinions on, and might be interesting for your readers as well.
First a small bit of background, I live in DC and some friends and I have been organizing small (15-20 attendee) Scotch tastings about every 6 months, we’ve been picking regions and having 4 or 5 different scotches to sample (usually 2 or 3 $40-$50 bottles and 1 or 2 $70-$90 bottles). It’s been a lot of fun, and I think we and our friends have gotten too snooty for our own good, and the good of our pocket books.
So, for this next time around we decided to be a little cheap/patriotic and have an American whiskey tasting. Myself and a few of my roommates have begun some private research, and I have had real difficulty finding whiskies that stand out. Do you have any recommendations? I’d just like to find a few whiskeys that are complex enough to discuss as well as enjoy.
Thanks so much for your time, 
Nathan C.
My short list response:
  • Maker’s Mark is one of my favorites…and different than most Bourbons in that it uses wheat and no Rye.
  • Bulleit is a fantastic Bourbon at a good price.
  • Buffalo Trace and it’s slightly more expensive older brother Eagle Rare are both fantastic whiskies.
  • Stranahan’s (Colorado Single Malt) is really really good.
  • Jim Beam Black is a great whiskey for the price
  • Russel Reserve and Russle Reserve Rye are tops and I suggest that you include a rye whiskey in the tasting.
  • If you DO choose only one Rye – select Sazerac…the 6 year old. It is amazing and I use it a lot.

And don’t give me crap for leaving your favourite off the short list . . . there are so many American whiskies available that this was not meant to be an exhaustive list of excellent whiskies – but it was a list of readily available, priced right whiskies that anyone looking to explore American whiskies should try.

Of Course there are a number of other American Whiskies I enjoy – Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Family Reserve; Four Roses, Bernheim, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden, Old Forrester – are among my favourites, but availability can be sporadic or,  to be completely honest, didn’t spring to mind immediately.

Anyway, feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments for the good of Nathan, his friends and other American Whisky drinkers.

How to Fake Whisky Color

Dear TSB

Sorry but I have an unusual request. I have one of those large bottles of Chivas Regal on the swing (4.5ltr). It sits on the bar. However I have drank all the scotch of course and wanted to fill it up with something that looked like scotch but wasn’t. I thought someone said some teas, but then that didn’t work. What else could I use that best looks like scotch?

Thanks, Adam

I had always heard the iced tea was used as a stunt double for whisky in movies when one of the actors had to take a swig.  (The next time some tough guy picks up a bottle and chugs, take a look and you can see how the liquid foams up…whisky doesn’t do that.)

I would think that tea would be a little translucent, but it might work if you used a more robust black tea. And maybe used red and brown food coloring to massage it?

Any ideas out there?

Since we are talking "fake" and "whisky" in the same breath, I wanted to remind everyone of Serge’s "War on Whisky Fakers".

Wofflogomain

WWW – the Weakening Whisky WoundTable

Here’s a good question, from regular reader Brendan H. which allows me to solicit the opinion of some friends…

Hey Kevin,
 

Another weird question for you, thinking as I kick a bottle of Cigar Malt.

Does the alcohol content of my whisky decrease as I near the bottom of the bottle?

I ask this because (1) there seems to be less alcohol burn as I wind
through the bottle and (2) because alcohol being a light, fairly
volatile liquid, could be in vapor form at the top of the bottle and
released when I remove the cork.

 
If so then it might seem wise
to swish the whisky around the top of the bottle to recapture any
vaporous alcohol before opening.

Thanks for the science lesson.

Brendan

I responded to Brendan…

Theoretically, It COULD.
If it sits for a long time with a bad seal, the alcohol could evaporate…reducing the amount of Alcohol (by volume) in the liquid.

Once the alcohol has entered a gaseous state I don’t think it will recombine with the liquid by swishing…
-Kevin

But I thought I’d ask for input from some of my industry friends…

Chris Morris, Master Distiller, Brown Forman

You are correct. Every time a bottle is opened, a drink poured
out, and the bottle resealed you have created headspace. The headspace
will be filled with evaporate.

Keep doing this and the ever increasing
headspace will continue to sap the alcohol strength from the spirit
(very small amount overall).

If you desire to return the alcohol vapor
to the spirit you would have to chill the bottle to condense it. That
of course is not standard storage procedure. I wouldn’t worry about it.

-Chris

Dave Pickerell, Master Distiller, Maker’s Mark

At the risk of being too technical … here goes.

If the bottle is tightly sealed, only a relatively small amount of alcohol will evaporate … and then an equilibrium condition will set up where alcohol evaporates and condenses at the same rate and the concentration of alcohol in the vapor state is constant throughout the space…. it will not stratify… The proof in the liquid will remain essentially unchanged.  Even if the bottle is opened and partially consumed, and then tightly re-sealed, this same equilibrium will be achieved, and there will be essentially no proof reduction … even as the liquid volume decreases.  (Theoretically, there might be a minuscule proof reduction here, but I don’t think you could notice it).

If the bottle is loosely closed … or not capped at all … The alcohol will continue to evaporate and will never reach an equilibrium because it will continue to escape from the open mouth of the bottle into the surrounding air space.  Thus, the proof will continue to drop.  This also explains why a non-chill filtered whisky bottled at a proof of 86 or greater will eventually cloud up if left for a long time with the cap off or the seal loose.  When the product reaches a proof below 86, a chill haze begins to develop, because some of the components become insoluble in alcohol and water mixtures below 86 proof … This haze can be anything from a little cloudy to something akin to river mud.

Mark Reynier, Bruichladdich

When reducing  to obtain the desired 46% vol that we like to bottle at, it is notoriously difficult to arrive at the precise
figure because the alcohol strength (in bulk) and at cask strength is so volatile. We have a legal  0.1 variance and a matter of 60 minutes is enough to reduce the strength by 01 or more.

Therefore, even at a reduced volume (a bottle) and strength -  and with exposure to air, I imagine that the strength would fall . . . albeit at a stultifyingly slow
rate.

The reduced alcohol burn referred to is probably reduced by the rasping cigar smoke in the throat.

Mark

Ian Millar, Glenfiddich

First off, why would you have a bottle open so long this could happen??? THAT wouldn’t happen in Scotland!

Secondly, yes – you could lose something in evaporation and the rate of loss would relate to the temperature of the room and was the bottle in direct sunlight or indeed artificial light.

(Never take a chance – store the bottle in a cool dark place, open with good friends and devour with joy).

All the best
Ian

Meaningless titles

I recently received the following email:

Good Day,

Caught this podcast by one of my favorite food writers.  Not sure about the comments from the “Master of Scotch” John Overslee.  He is awfully fond of Johnnie Walker Black. Thought he would come up with some other names.
Cheers,
Robert Bruce E.

Thanks for asking the question, Rob. Let’s get this straight once and for all.

The “Masters of Whisky” are Brand Ambassadors for the Diageo whisky brands.

Now, I know a number of the Masters of Whisky (formerly Masters of Scotch Knowledge) and, speaking for the ones I know personally, they are knowledgeable people who are great speakers and great representatives for their brands and company.

HOWEVER, I’m annoyed by the fact that there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of Diageo to position them as having had some sort of honor bestowed upon them – while failing to mention the Diageo association. This is not cool.

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Fuelish behaviour & some classy expression

Some of you may have heard that issues with a pier on Islay, combined with rough weather had put a stop to fuel deliveries to the island threatening to put a halt to distillation for a while.

A reader writes to ask:

Dear Scotch Blog,

I’ve just read the post on Bowmore and its planned makeover.

It mentions " A stylish,very contemporary space with a simple tasting bar arranged to take advantage of picture postcard views over Loch Indaal (giving a good view of iconoclastic local rival Bruichladdich into the bargain!)".

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Ruining it for everyone

Were you one of the people who took advantage of an offer for a free hip flask by purchasing a bottle of Glenfiddich?

Were you one of the people who fraudulently tried to get something for nothing?

Apparently there was a code included with bottles of Glenfiddich which offered a free flask – all you had to do was go to a web site, enter the included code and in return, you’d be sent the flask – assuming of course you had purchased a bottle of Glenfiddich.

Alan Lazerow emailed me to ask me if I knew anything about the fact that people had not been receiving their promised flasks.

I contacted Sharon Owen, one of the excellent Glenfiddich & Balvenie U.S. Brand Ambassadors, to see what she could tell me about the issue.

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Bottling of Blends outside of Scotland

Last Monday we asked Glen Barclay, Director of Legal Affairs for the Scotch Whisky Association about the legality of bottling Single Malt Scotch outside of Scotland – this led to a discussion about bottling Scotch blends outside of Scotland.

David Williamson, Director of Public Affairs, responds:

Hi Kevin,

Many thanks for your recent question asking why Scotch Whisky can be bottled outside Scotland.

As you are aware, there has never been a requirement in the legal definition of Scotch Whisky for it to be bottled only in Scotland. As Scotch Whisky has grown in popularity around the world over the last century, we have therefore seen Scotch Whisky, principally Blended Scotch Whisky, shipped for local bottling in certain export markets.

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Bottling outside of Scotland

Mel G. from Manila, Philippines asks:

Dear TSB,

Can a whisky distilled and blended in Scotland, but bottled in another country be called a blended Scotch whisky? There is a bit of an anomaly here in Philippines, a 5yo distilled in Scotland, but bottled here is labelled "blended Scotch whisky".

Your clarification is much appreciated.

-Mel

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Glendronach 15 YO Question

Quick reader question that I thought may be of interest to you…

Dear TSB

For years I have been buying the Glendronach 15 year old sherry
cask……. now I only can find "the Traditional ….. 12 year old: 6
years oak/6 years sherry ….. What gives?
Christipher M.

Hi Christopher,
I asked Neil Macdonald, who is in charge of all of the single malts for Chivas – who own Glendronach:

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Keys to hosting your tasting

I get a lot of requests for tips on hosting a tasting.

The thing to keep in mind is that a tasting should be fun. Tastings can and should each have their own personalities. Enjoy the differences. Different attendees, different whiskies, different moods.
But the keys to hosting a good tasting are quite simple:

  1. Know your audience. Are they novices? Experts? If novices, then make sure you have a variety of whiskies that have different taste profiles – If everything tastes the same, they’ll think Scotch is boring. If they are experts, then make sure you are tasting some interesting things.
  2. Know your limits. Do not try to taste too many whiskies. 4 – 6 is a good range. Closer to 4 for novices.
  3. Know your stuff. Or Don’t. If you are the knowledgable one in the group – be prepared to answer questions. If you are all a bunch of friends getting together to try some new things, (highly recommended) then it’s
    OK not to know all about the whisky. Go to the distillery’s site and
    download the official tasting notes. Use them as a rough guide. Learn
    together.
  4. Have fun.

And now…a classic story on hosting a tasting…

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