Big Bottom Zinfandel Finish and Single Cask Zin series review!

img_5404This past weekend (well, black Friday, technically) I was able to help out over at Big Bottom Whiskey again and bottle up three different single cask runs of their Zinfandel Finish Bourbon warehouse series to complement the more widely available blend. I’m quite privileged to be friends with the owner, Ted, and more so to get some sneak peaks into the business and what’s to come.

I’ve know about the warehouse series zin bottlings for a while now and even had some small samples when I stopped in a while back as Ted was prepping the blend. Now that the warehouse series are bottled and I had some time to sit at home and really run through a decent side-by-side tasting, I figured I give you all the run down of what I think.

Following are the notes of the three warehouse series single cask bottlings as well as the commercially available blend (Note that I had a clean palate prior to sitting down to taste, cleared with both a small cup of black coffee followed by water prior to and after each glass.):

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  • Bottling: Amy’s Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Red licorice, currants, cardamom, and a citric whiff of orange and cranberry
  • Flavour: Fruit and oak tannins up front, followed by some white pepper and a return of red licorice
  • Finish: Light vanilla combined with the fullness of red fruit, almost jammy, then balanced quickly by the rye spice and dry finish.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: Complex and subtle notes from the zin barrel come through, as well as the zinfandel itself. Heavier on the rye notes as well.

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  • Bottling: RedwoodValley cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: More red licorice and berries with a heavier oakiness.Orange as well, works into a cinnamon finish on the nose.
  • Flavour: Dry tannins roll into the oakiness of a heavy zinfandel with muted rye spice notes.
  • Finish: As the zin fades, the rye spice returns forward and finally balanced with the sweetness of cinnamon Christmas candies.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: The explicit barrel notes really come through with this bottling.

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  • Bottling: Ancient Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Pepper and red fruit indicative of a good zinfandel. More red licorice with a slight toastiness that presents the entire dram quite big on the nose.
  • Flavour: Round sweetness and charred oak. Big fruit gives way to coffee and char, then moves right into a rye spice.
  • Finish: As the coffee and char fade, the ry spice and fruit comes back to linger with a distinct but mild alcohol burn.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: Big and complex. Much more of the French oak. A great marriage of zin and bourbon here.

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  • Bottling: Zinfandel Finish, blend of four different zin casks. Same winery, but different vineyards.
  • Nose: Cardamom and red licorice, with orange, cinnamon, and very light oak.
  • Flavour: Berries and oak tannins move into a complex mix of char, toast, and a melange of spices including rye, cinnamon, cardamom, and white pepper.
  • Finish: The spice moves back to the sweetness of berries with a slight chocolate espresso note that lingers at the end.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram is surprisingly greater than the sum of its parts. The blend exemplifies how critical barrel choice and blending percentages can be. The blend results in a dram that is entirely new but still maintains the best qualities of the included casks. 

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All in all, I am amazingly pleased with how the entire vertical series turned out. While I enjoy the final blend the most of all four bottlings, I actually enjoy it more as a direct result of being able to compare it with the single casks that went into it. Of the single cask bottlings, I do have to side with the complexity of the Ancient Vineyard cask as it reminds me so much of the high quality and BIG California Zinfandels my palate grew up with; the rye spice in the bourbon being the perfect complement to the pepper in a good zin. The finished blend is a wine and bourbon lover’s dream come true.

The good news for you all local to the Portland area, the warehouse series should be on sale this coming weekend exclusively at the Big Bottom Tasting Room in Hillsboro, Oregon.  For the rest of you all, you may be out of luck, unless you can find an on-line retailer (connected to one of these distributors) to special order and ship you some of the Zin Finish Blend… unless you’re lucky enough to happen upon some in your local store  🙂

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Barrel Aged Manhattan Cocktail- aka “The Manhattan Project”

Generally, the 3DC don’t speak much about cocktails and rather prefer to imbibe in the dram straight, neat of course. But there are indeed cocktails we enjoy, one of them being the traditional Manhattan.

So what to do once your 2 liter barrel has aged two runs of whitedog whiskies and is essentially spent when it comes to aging bourbon? Well, you take a page out of Jeffery Morgenthaler’s blog (soon to be book), and barrel age your Manhattan, obviously.

Here’s the recipe I used (thanks to Big Bottom Whiskey’s website ) to mix up my first batch of what I un-creatively dubbed “The Manhattan Project”:

  • 2 ½ oz Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon
  • ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

I scaled the recipe up to fit my 2 liter barrel using the following amounts:

  • 2200 ml Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon
  • 660 ml Sweet Vermouth
  • 60 dashes (18ml) Angostura bitters

Once the 2 liter barrel was filled, this recipe yields an extra 750ml bottle of finished cocktail plus enough for one drink while I’m cleaning up… You may wish to scale down the recipe slightly if you don’t wish to have that much extra. In my case I wanted to see how the same cocktail faired in glass versus barrel storage, so having a bottle extra worked perfectly for me.

I filled my barrel and promptly forgot about it for a week. To my utter shock and surprise, when I remembered to test a sample a week and a day later, the change was remarkable. So much so I opted to halt the experiment then and there, bottle up the first run, and mix up a second batch.

Because of the large difference I tasted after only that first week, I was hesitant to keep it in the barrel any longer for fear of getting too much oak and tannins from the wood in the final cocktail. As it stands after only a week, the cocktail has pulled a nice mild smokiness and woodiness from the barrel while at the same time marrying the vermouth, bitters, and bourbon into a single entity rather than three distinct parts. A comparison of the glass bottle cocktail aged for the same length of time shows the marrying beginning to occur, but only in its infancy stages after a week. Obviously the glass version doesn’t have that deeper richness imparted by the 2 liter oak barrel either. The difference a single week in the barrel made was a spectacular showing of just how distinctly different barrel aged cocktails can be from their normal counterparts.

I enjoyed the outcome of this experiment so much so that batch 2 is now resting in the barrel, perhaps for even a bit longer this go around. After that I may experiment with only barrel aging the vermouth rather than the entire cocktail (a suggestion from Ted Pappas of Big Bottom Whiskey) based on the fact that the bourbon is already oak aged but the vermouth is not. The only component missing being the time to marry the ingredients, which could then be done in a neutral vessel like glass.

Of course, next up I can really start playing with the variables and find the perfect vermouth and bitters, or even go down the path of making my own bitters… but I think I’ll save that rabbit hole for some other time and simply enjoy my pre-made cocktail for a bit instead 😉


Big Bottom Whiskey’s Tasting Room Grand Opening

It’s no secret; I’m a fan of Big Bottom Whiskey. This past Saturday, both Jean and I had another opportunity to join in and help bottle up more of the batch 3 Port finish, and get the Wild Bill warehouse series dram in the new bottles as well. As always, we had a fabulous time meeting new people and laughing our butts off through the various bits of conversation and chatter that occurs on the production line.

More importantly, though, Saturday was when Ted and Taylor opened the Big Bottom tasting room at the front of the warehouse. This is huge news for some of us locals, as they will be exclusively selling the warehouse series through the tasting room; yup, that means nowhere else, folks. While the rest of you can get the American Straight, and maybe some of the Port Finish whiskies, you won’t be able to get your hands on any of the Wild Bill, Project X, or other upcoming warehouse series drams unless you come to visit.

 

What ARE these new warehouse only releases?

Wild Bill is a cask strength version of the Tawny Port finish bourbon after a year in the port casks and bottled last Saturday around 118 proof. This dark and moody dram has a powerful kick, but seduces you with a balanced complex sweetness you’ve come to love from the port finish. Just look at the deep, rich colour of this dram sitting on the bottle filler… if I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was an American version of Loch Dhu!

 

Project X is even crazier. This is a bottling of a 4 year old whiskey finished for a year in White Port casks… yep, you read that right: white port! This is a dram I had the pleasure and honour of sampling from start to finish over the past year, and damn if I’m not impressed with the outcome. It started out almost void of any real colouring, but in the last two or three months transformed into a deep nearly ruby red dram; surprising for a white port! And the flavour, oh the flavour followed suit! This a wonderfully sweet bourbon with similar complexities to the Wild Bill (though at a lower 91 proof), but developed a richness and balanced tannins from the oak with just a slight almost wafting hint of acidity cutting through the depth to bring this dram to life.

 

Both of these drams SHOULD be on sale in the next 30 days, pending label approvals and of course actually getting the labels ON the bottles. You can rest assured I’ll be one of the first in line to grab me some of this goodness.

The Big Bottom tasting room is open every Saturday from noon to 4pm. (Like them on Facebook for the most up to date news and hours, etc.) Stop by, say hello, and tell them Jason of the 3 Drunken Celts sent you… it won’t get you anything other than a laugh and an eye-roll, but it’ll make them (and me) smile 🙂

 

Until then, here’s some more pictures from the bottling and tasting room opening:

 


A wonderful whiskies centered weekend

This past weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering to help bottle over at Big Bottom Whiskey in Hillsboro, Or.  In just about 2 hours time, 6 of us had 58 cases of bourbon bottles stickered, filled, corked, capped, and boxed. Not too shabby, considering two of us had zero prior experience. Ted, the owner and all around great guy, placed me at the corking station while Jean held down the ‘capsule’ station placing the shrink-wrap tops on the bottles after I corked them. I won’t lie, manually corking bourbon bottles takes a toll on your hands. The whole crew really rocked it: Ted’s wife Taylor took the heat shrink station, Aaron took the filling station while Ted prepped the bottles for filling and Liz ran double duty placing the stickers and helping Taylor load the bottles into the cases. For such a small crew, I have to say we were efficient and effective in knocking out nearly a full palette’s worth of whiskey!

The day was productive and it was great to be able to help a small local business and local whiskey guy. Supporting the community of producers is important to me as there aren’t many people focused on whiskey and without support no one in the community can grow. But beyond lending my support to what Big Bottom is doing, it was really just fun to spend a few hours with people who are truly passionate about the industry, have decided opinions, and love talking shop. Being able to spend time talking about whiskies, comparing notes, learning about the business side of things, and just learning more about whiskies in general was truly the highlight for me.

Even better was the fact that Ted asked me to return at a later date for some more in depth tastings than the two we got to after our work was done on Saturday. We had some small tastes of the 3 yr bourbon which we had just bottled up, as well as the 2 yr port finish which had been on the wood for 7 months… spectacular! (I’m telling you again, if you can find the port finish buy it all, and then buy it again when the next batch comes out! You won’t be disappointed.) I am really looking forward to seeing what this next port finish batch produces. If the 7 month taste was any indication, it will be even more subtle yet complex than the first batch Big Bottom bottled up. Good stuff is on the horizon!

I even got some good advice from Ted which I was able to immediately implement when I returned home on Saturday…. but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It seems that every blog thus far in which I have spoken of Big Bottom Whiskey also includes mention of Woodinville Whiskey Co. and I can’t help but find that amusing if not wholly coincidental. This case is no different, as Sunday I put their “Age your own whiskey” kit to (hopefully) use. Well, maybe that is a slight misdirection, as I really started the process the prior Thursday….

I picked up my kit Thursday afternoon from Downtown Lake Oswego Liquor (at that time they had 3 other kits in addition to the one I purchased) and brought it home with the idea that I’d get around to it over the weekend.  (I am sure you can see where this is going. 😉 )  I dug into the instructions, figuring I’d at least learn what I needed to do to get the most from this kit. Silly me, I should have known… I’d have to swell the cask to seal any cracks and make it liquid tight before I could add the distillate to begin aging. Thankfully I started reading in advance, as this swelling process takes 2-4 days! So, I started the initial steps by filling the cask with water, as directed, and waited…

While I waited, I took a longer gander at the kit, which includes not only the cask and two 750ml bottles of White Dog, but 2 tulip style nosing/tasting glasses, and of course a funnel to fill the cask. Since the cask is only about 2 liters large, the funnel is rather small in order to easily fill it. Imagine the same sized funnel you’d use to fill a flask and you’ve got the right idea here. The kit is actually really well put together and the included instructions are very well written; clear, concise, easy to understand explaining some of the “whys” not just the “whats”.

Now, I did say I got some great advice from Ted. As we worked our way through the bottling on Saturday I’d mentioned I picked up this kit earlier in the week and had the cask swelling presently. This is when he hit me with a question I hadn’t thought of: “How long are you going to let the cask rest after dumping the water and before filling it with whiskey?”

Oh…. um. Well I hadn’t really thought of letting it rest as I didn’t want to run the risk of the cask drying and re-introducing leaks. And here is where Ted’s advice came in to play: “Let it rest/dry for 24 hours, otherwise you’re going to introduce too much water into the whiskey.” You know it seems perfectly obvious now, but I hadn’t even thought of that until he’d mentioned it. And with our Oregon humidity, I don’t really run any risk of the cask over-drying in 24 hours.

So, once we’d finished bottling and returned home, I dumped the water from the cask noting there had been no leaks past the first five minutes after I’d filled it (and kept it filled for the next two days). And then I just let it rest until Sunday.

That was a very long 24 hours. Perhaps I’m not the best person to try his (novelty) hand at aging whiskies after all… Sunday came, and I popped open the two bottles of White Dog. Luckily I was thinking while pouring and stopped after the first bottle so I could have a quick taste of the unaged spirit I was about to play with.

Tasting notes: Woodinville Barreling strength (110 proof) White Dog

Nose: Mild caramel sweetness. Heavier vegetation sweetness. Retains the smell of the mash even after distillation.

Palate: Heavy vegetation sweetness. Slight bitterness of the corn/rye mash comes through. Surprisingly heavy note of Anise.

Finish: Almost floral in tone. Light and clean, but very hot at 110 proof.

The cask itself holds about 2.5 bottles (750ml each), so there was a little ‘head room’ in the cask when I was done filling it. I replaced the bung, and set the cask in my pantry, atop my wine fridge where it sits just waiting. I do expect to lose some ‘angels share’, possibly a tad more due to not a complete fill of the cask. All told I figure I’ll likely get one full 750ml bottle, and a second 500ml fill from the two bottles I added to the cask.

And now the waiting really begins. Luckily for me, the smaller cask size actually accelerates the aging process due to larger surface area contact with the wood. The small 2 liter cask size roughly translates into an aging factor of 53 times faster than a normal sized cask. Because of this, the cask should begin imparting flavour and nose qualities within the first week of aging. Each week nearly acting like a relative year in a larger cask by my estimation. So, as you’d expect, I’ll be having a small taste every week and writing down my notes to contrast from the beginning distillate to the present week. I’m not sure when I’ll stop and rebottle, but I figure it will likely be after 3 weeks of no discernible change in flavour. That may come early in the process, or possibly months to a year from now, we shall see.

This is turning into quite a fun experiment, where I can really taste how the oak changes a whiskey from week to week… I’m really looking forward to this coming weekend when I get that first taste on oak and can report back my tasting notes to show what changes have occurred…

Until then, sláinte mhaith

-Seamus/ Jason