The first thing you notice about the Balblair 2001 vintage scotch is how light in color it is, despite being aged in ex-bourbon casks for 11 years. That is because, unlike many Scotches, this is not doctored with caramel coloring before bottling. But the age is definitely there.
It has the sweet aroma of cereal malt with vanilla (presumably picked up from the bourbon barrels). The flavor is also slightly sweet with caramel and cereal grain, along with a dry oakiness. There is some spice (cinnamon, perhaps) and notes of bitter chocolate, especially on the rather long finish.
The Balblair 2001 Single Malt Scotch is good, but unspectacular. It didn’t have as much balance as I was hoping for. There are definitely interesting elements there, but I didn’t think they all came together.
As this whisky is a little hot at 92 proof (46% abv), adding some water isn’t out of the question. I found that I could discern more of the flavor after doing so.
Dewar’s is one of the most popular brands of blended Scotch whisky in the world. And the whisky that forms the heart of those blends is made in the town of Aberfeldy in the Scottish Highlands.
The Aberfeldy distillery was opened in 1898 by the Dewar family and has been producing whisky pretty much ever since. (It closed briefly during the two world wars.)
Their most popular expression is the Aberfeldy 12-year-old single malt. It’s a very pleasant, easygoing whisky, but still full of flavor. It shows great balance, with honeyed sweetness matched with dry oak, and fruitiness contrasted with just a touch of smoke.
The Aberfeldy 12 is a mild-mannered whisky, not a Scotch that grabs you by the lapels. Still, it demands attention for its lip-smacking flavor.
This would make a wonderful introduction for those who are looking to explore the world of single malt whisky. But even those who are dyed-in-the-wool Scotch drinkers will find much here to enjoy.
Auchentoshan Lowland Scotch Whisky has released a new single malt that is designed to appeal to bourbon drinkers. The new American Oak Single Malt Scotch is aged in first fill ex-bourbon casks, the first Auchentoshan to be matured in this way.
It’s still a single malt Scotch, triple-distilled from 100% malted barley, but by aging it in barrels that were first used to mature bourbon, the idea is that the American whiskey will lend something of its character to the Scotch.
The aroma of Auchentoshan American Oak is light and slightly grainy. There are toasted malt and wood notes, but overall nothing really jumps out.
Sipping neat, this whisky is dry and slightly woody. The cereal malt is more pronounced in the taste, along with some of the flavors you’d expect from bourbon, such a vanilla and light spice. I don’t know that I would have made the connection to American whiskey on my own, however. The flavor is definitely Scotch all the way.
Auchentoshan American Oak is a straight-forward single malt, without much nuance or complexity. It doesn’t have an age statement, so we can assume it’s fairly young. The attractive price — relatively cheap these days for whisky — makes it appealing as both a whisky to drink straight, or to use in cocktails and highballs.
If you’re not usually a Scotch drinker and you’d like to give one a try, this is an affordable, pleasing option.
Johnnie Walker is the most popular whisky in the world, known and respected almost anywhere you go. It’s a blended Scotch whisky, meaning it is a mixture of malt whiskeys from different distilleries, along with some more neutral grain whiskey.
The company does not reveal all the names of the distilleries whose whisky they use. But they have said this blend is build around Clynelish. Other oft-mentioned suspects are Cardu and Talisker.
The Gold Label Reserve contains no age statement, so we don’t know how long it spent int he barrel. (This is in contrast to the Gold Label 18 year, the whisky it replaced in Johnnie Walker’s lineup.)
This special edition version comes in a bright, shiny gold bottle; a rather striking appearance, if a little gaudy. If you like the looks of it, you might want to buy one now, as it’s supposed to be a limited edition. If you don’t, you can buy the regular, less ostentatious, version instead.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve has a light aroma overall, with honey and fruit dominating, and just a touch of smoke underneath. There is also a faint grapey/wine aroma as well.
Similarly, it is light on the palate — a common characteristic of blended whiskeys — both in flavor and intensity. It starts out with toasted malt and honeyed oak, before changing over to light smoke. It has a short, very dry finish, with an astringency from either the smoke or the wood or both.
This is a refined and balanced whiskey, but it is not exactly bursting with flavor. It is certainly pleasant to drink, and would likely be welcomed by those who aren’t fans of heavier whiskeys or who are just being introduced to Scotch. However, drinkers who are looking for the more assertive flavor of a good single malt are probably better off looking elsewhere.
The Whiskey Sour is a classic of the cocktail repertoire, a simple drink that brings big flavors. It has a wonderful balance between sweet and sour, and a velvety texture that makes it extra pleasing to drink.
The traditional recipe for the Whiskey Sour calls for bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes an egg white. I’ve replaced the sugar here with maple syrup. Maple and bourbon are a classic combination, and I find it works well for a nice change-up on the original.
You’ll want to use at least a mid-shelf (or better) quality bourbon. It doesn’t have to be Maker’s Mark, although I think it’s an excellent choice for this cocktail. Your choice of maple syrup is also important. It should be a real, Grade A maple syrup. None of the imitation stuff. I used Crown Medium Amber Syrup.
If you’re squeamish about using an egg white, you can use the pasteurized variety, or leave it out all together. The egg white adds a silky texture that gives the cocktail a nice mouthfeel. But if you’re reluctant to consume raw egg, it’s still a good drink without it.
Dry shake all ingredients without ice, then add ice and shake again. (If omitting the egg white, you can also omit the dry shake.) Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange peel, or an orange slice and maraschino cherry.
One of the not-so-secret secrets of the whiskey business is that the vast majority of products on the shelf — sold under scores of different names — are all made by the same handful of companies. This is especially true of rye whiskey. You can visit your local store and see a dozen different brands for sale, but there’s a good chance that at least half of them were produced at the same distillery, a place you’ve probably never even heard of.
MGP Ingredients is one of the major players in rye whiskey, even though you’ll never see their name on a bottle. Located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, this one-time Seagram’s distillery (known as LDI until it changed hands a couple years back) produces a wildly popular whiskey from a mash bill containing 95% rye and 5% malted barley.
That whiskey is aged and blended in varying ways to become Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Willett Rye, and several others. It is also, notably, the whiskey that becomes Bulleit and George Dickel Rye.
Both Bulleit and George Dickel brands are owned by drinks conglomerate Diageo. Their rye whiskey offerings start out as the same MGP distillate, are aged for around for the same amount of time (four to seven years for Bulleit, five years for Dickel), and are bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).
There may be differences between the two whiskeys that the company won’t talk about. But the primary difference that is publicly known is that George Dickel Rye is finished in the way that all Dickel whiskeys (and most Tennessee whiskeys in general) are: by filtering it through charcoal made of sugar maple wood. They call this process “mellowing,” and it’s designed to impart a “smooth” character to the spirit.
So if both these whiskeys start out as the same liquid, how do they compare when you pour them out of the bottle? Let’s see who wins the face-off.
Nose/Aroma Bulleit: Rich and slightly spicy, with sweet honey and fruit.
George Dickel: Not as sweet. More oak, vanilla, and spice.
Bulleit: Spicy and somewhat dry. Cinnamon, vanilla, and mint, with a little bit of fruit and toffee. Balanced, refined, and flavorful, making for a very nice pour.
George Dickel: Dry and spicy, with vanilla, cereal grain, and cinnamon. Lots of oak. Almost bitter, with a kick at the end. Dickel whiskies are known for their smoothness, but this one is a little rough.
Bulleit Rye and George Dickel Rye have a lot of similarities, but some definite differences make for a clear winner. The Bulleit is sweeter (without being sweet), more flavorful and balanced, making it more pleasing overall. The George Dickel is drier and oakier, and the different components don’t meld together as well. They both have things to recommend about them, including abundant cocktail potential. But the Bulleit stands out as the better whiskey.
An annual gift guide is obligatory for any self-respecting publication, along with many (like this one) that are not. Here are some suggestions for what to give the spirits lover in your life. There are more expensive and rarer spirits that I could tantalize you with. But these you can actually find most places and they won’t break the bank.
The most desirable bourbons — Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, etc. — are almost impossible to find. But there are still plenty of great bourbons that you can buy at the local liquor store. And Larceny is one of them. It’s a wheated bourbon, so it has a softer flavor profile — just like Pappy! — and it will please almost any palate.
Much like bourbon, the coveted rye whiskeys can be hard to find. Either that or they’re expensive. Bulleit Rye is both easy to find and affordable — and it’s good, too. Works for both sipping and cocktails, such as the Manhattan.
Tanqueray Malacca Gin
This limited edition gin from Tanqueray is starting to get hard to find. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. So if you see any for sale, buy it. It’s an amazing gin: less Junipery, more citrusy, and a little sweeter. It’s particularly delicious in pre-Prohibition era cocktails like the Tom Collins or Martinez.
Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
You know Grand Marnier, one of the world’s finest orange liqueurs. Now meet its cousin. This combines the traditional flavor of Grand Marnier with flavors of raspberry and peach. Makes a great Margarita or a nice dessert tipple.
Boyd & Blair Vodka
Can vodka be delicious? Of course it can! And here’s the proof. The best vodka I tried all year. Creamy, smooth, and wonderful.
Rhum Clément VSOP
If you’re looking for a more unique rum to give, Rhum Clément makes an excellent choice. One of the best examples of rhum agricole — a style of rum made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than the usual molasses — Rhum Clement has a spicy, rich and vibrant flavor. Can be enjoyed on its own, it also makes an amazing Mai Tai when combined with Jamaican rum.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
Blended scotches don’t get the respect that single malts do, but that’s crazy. Some of the best scotches in the world go into Johnnie Walker’s blends. This limited edition is only around for the holidays and I haven’t tried it. But the bottle alone makes it a gorgeous gift.
Citadelle Reserve Gin
Most gin is intended to be drank in cocktails. And Citadelle Reserve makes a great cocktail. But it’s also excellent when enjoyed by itself over ice. The key here is that the gin is barrel aged after distillation, giving the finished product a softer, warmer flavor. (This one might be hard to find.)
Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Whisky
Japanese whisky is one of the hot new trends in the whiskey world, and for good reason. It can still be hard to find, but definitely worth seeking out. Designed to be enjoyed in highballs or with a little water, Hibiki is dangerously drinkable.
Whisky lovers rejoice, Buffalo Trace Distillery is releasing its 2013 Antique Collection in late September. The highly anticipated collection will once again feature five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. Here’s what ardent fans can expect:
Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
The previous edition of this bourbon was honored with a Gold Medal at the 2012 International Wine and Spirits Competition. The 2013 edition was distilled in the Spring of 1993 and has been aging on the 2nd, 3rd and 6th floors of Warehouses I and K. The barrels selected for this batch were actually aged for 19 years, and the taste has been described as dry, with hints of oak, leather, and tobacco.
George T. Stagg
The 2012 release of this perennial favorite was named the “World’s Best North American Whiskey” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards. The 2013 George T. Stagg was found in Warehouses I, K and Q. This uncut, unfiltered bourbon was distilled back in the spring of 1997 and weighs in at 128.2 proof, not as strong as some years, due to the location of the barrels on lower floors. “We sample many barrels throughout the year to find the best ones to create George T. Stagg. It just so happens this year, most of the barrels had been stored on lower floors. The temperature remains cooler down low where it balances the mature flavors from the wood and in turn the proof climbs slowly from the entry proof. The quintessential George T. Stagg taste is there – a big, bold whiskey that is easy to sip,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. Although still highly allocated, Buffalo Trace did begin to start putting more barrels away back in 1997 for future George T. Stagg releases. This whiskey tastes of fudge, vanilla, and tobacco.
Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Last year’s release was awarded a 95 rating and Liquid Gold Award in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible. This 2013 rye whiskey release was aged in Warehouses K and is described as mellow spice, vanilla sweetness, mint, and a dry finish.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye is an uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. The 2012 edition was named “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2013Whisky Bible. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2007, aged on the seventh floor of Warehouse K and weighs in at 128.4 proof. The flavor has been described as toffee, clove, and allspice.
William Larue Weller
William Larue Weller is the Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon. The previous edition was named the “Second Finest Whisky in the World” in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible. The 2013 offering was distilled in the spring of 2001 and aged on the third and fourth floors of Warehouses M and P. This William Larue Weller release registers in at 136.2 proof. It tastes of dates, caramel, and brown sugar.
The Antique Collection was introduced more than a decade ago and has become a cult favorite among whiskey connoisseurs. Since 2000 these whiskeys have garnered numerous awards from such notable publications as Whisky Advocate Magazine, Spirit Journal and Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
The 2013 Antique Collection whiskeys will be available in limited quantities starting in late September or early October. Suggested retail price is $70 each. For more information visit www.greatbourbon.com.
Boardwalk Empire, HBO's Emmy-winning show about Atlantic City gangsters during Prohibition, returns this Sunday for its fourth season. Naturally, there's a lot of bootlegging involved.
Given Atlantic City's location, it was a prime location for rumrunners bringing illicit liquor into the country from Canada. And Canadian hooch usually meant whisky. Canadian Club, then produced by the Hiram Walker Company, was a particular favorite. (It was also the choice of Don Draper, for you Mad Men fans.) Crown Royal, produced by the Seagram company, was also born during this time.
Gin became increasingly popular with Americans (and bootleggers) during Prohibition. There was plenty of it to be had in England and Canada for organized crime syndicates to import. And unlike whiskey, which has to be aged, gin can be produced in an illegal still and immediately sold. There was also the infamous "bathtub gin" — gin made at home — which came with significant dangers due to the possibility of methanol in the final product.
Although not as desirable as whiskey or gin, rum was still a popular spirit to bootleg (thus the name "rumrunning"), with most of the supply coming from Cuba, the Bahamas and other Caribbean locales. Much of the bootleg rum ended up further south than Atlantic City, but a fair share of Bacardi still made its way to "The World's Playground."
So if you're planning to watch this weekend, who can blame you if you want to enjoy a drink along with the show? Here are some suggestions.
Crown Royal Black Manhattan
1 1/2 oz. of Crown Royal Black Blended Whisky 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth 1 tsp. Simple Syrup 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Canadian Club Highball
2 oz. Canadian Club Classic 12 Year Old Whisky 4 oz. 7-Up or Ginger Ale 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Build in an old-fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
1 1/2 oz. Bacardi White Rum 1 oz. Unsweetened Pineapple Juice 1 tsp. Grenadine
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
1 1/2 oz. London Dry Gin 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
Shake with cracked ice, then strain into a flute. Top with chilled Champagne. Garnish with a lemon peel spiral (aka a horse's neck).
Shot of Rotgut
1 1/2 oz. of Rotgut, Moonshine or Other Cheap Liquor
Fill a shot glass with rotgut. Pray you don't go blind.
Making good whiskey takes time. Try though they might, no distiller or producer has yet found a way to shortcut Father Time. There simply is no substitute for the years whiskey spends slowly aging in wood.
This desire is nothing new. While perusing a monograph from 1884 (The Complete Bartender: The Art of Mixing Plain and Fancy Drinks by Albert Barnes of the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City), I discovered the following recipe.
IMITATION OF BOURBON WHISKEY.
To 15 gallons of whiskey, add 3 gallons of Bourbon whiskey, 3/4 pint of simple syrup, 1 ounce of sweet spirits of nitre. Mix them well together, and color with sugar coloring.
So if you happen to have some sweet spirits of nitre on hand — the folksy name for ethyl nitrite, an ingredient used in patent remedies that's been banned in the United States since 1980 — you're good to go!