This 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.):
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.
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.
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.
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B
Extraneous Notes: The explicit barrel notes really come through with this bottling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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:
This past weekend was TOAST (The Oregon Artisan Spirits Tasting), an event put on by the Oregon Distiller’s Guild (like them on Facebook here) and touted as the largest craft spirits tasting in North America! The event featured over 55 local and national artisan producers, all told pouring over 170 different unique spirits. How, I ask you, as a founding 3DC member can I pass this up… I mean it is almost an imperative that I go, learn, taste, and report back, right? Well, I’m not going alone, so I dragged Jean and Corey along with me (ok maybe not dragged, more like enabled).
This is the same event where last year my friend Corey and I met Ted Pappas of Big Bottom Whiskey along with a few others, so I was very pleased to see some great whiskey representation by even more makers and distillers this year. It seems our local craft artisans are really doing some great work and growing by leaps and bounds. The event itself also seemed to indicate this with a shift in venue to the Portland World Trade Center as well as the critical addition of an on-premise bottle shop.
From my view as an attendee, the addition of the bottle shop was the perfect compliment to the tasting hall as we were able to immediately buy bottles we enjoyed, without the burden of having to remember them for later 😉 I can only hope the addition of the on-premise shop proved beneficial for the vendors as well since the convenience of purchase would likely make for some good sales likely missed if an attendee would have to go searching their local stores for some of these bottlings.
Since this is a whiskies blog and tasting group, I won’t bother with the details of all the other spirits we tasted on Saturday, instead will focus on just the whiskies side. You’re also in luck, as I didn’t bother with my normal tasting notebook, you’ll not have to bear through the specific tasting notes of each dram I had, which given the expanse of the event is likely a good thing for us all!
Our initial whiskey of the day was Cabin Fever Maple Whiskey which is an 80 proof maple infused rye whiskey that is aged in uncharred barrels and then chill filtered to remove excess sugars. This one was simply too sweet for my palate to be a sipping whiskey, and really struck me as the perfect cooking ingredient (or breakfast dram to pour over your pancakes if’n you swing that way).
Next we moved on to Dry Fly Distilling where we sampled their Washington Wheat Whiskey. I recall discovering Dry Fly a few years back at Whiskies of the World where they were pouring what must have been thier first commercial run of the Washington Wheat. I’m happy to note here that they’ve really begun to fine-tune the dram and are producing a very pleasant, very smooth wheat whiskey that eschews much of the bitterness of corn based mashes leaving a nice soft story the whole way through.
Then it was over to Big Bottom to harass Ted, Taylor, and Monique. I’ve discussed Big Bottom’s merits in detail before, and it always seems strange to go to tastings where I’m so familiar with the pours being served. Luckily Ted always seems to have some small surprise for people like me and pulled out a brilliant New York cocktail to sample, with Big Bottom as the core bourbon base of course. I’m quite glad we could only sample that in our small shot glasses, as it is one of the tastiest cocktails I’ve had in a while and may just have hung out there the rest of the day had I a larger glass…
Luckily we were able to peel away and head off to more vendor tables, this time stopping at Ransom Spirits to sample their Whippersnapper Whiskey. This was an interesting one to me as it uses two different base distillates: one Kentucky whitedog corn based mash which is re-distilled, and the second being a recipe of malted and unmalted barley mash distilled in Oregon. This combination, as well as the use of use bourbon barrels and their own Pinot Noir barrels makes for an interestingly complex dram that still has the soft sweetness you’d expect from an American whiskey but without the bitter finish so many bourbons can leave you with after aging. The year average in the barrels definitely does this dram right.
A hop over to Few Spirits caught us a bit off guard as we found their Whitedog whiskey to be better in flavour and finish than their aged bourbon. If I recall correctly (I’ve been unable to verify this online *edit below because I was wrong*) the whitedog is actually made with a mash created from Oat flour rather than solid grains. Whatever the case, this whitedog is one that is just as easy sipping as any of the bourbon and American aged whiskies in the rest of the show. Truly a happy surprise.
*Edit* I knew I kept Corey around for a reason 🙂 He just informed me that Few Spirits was unaged only, with the interesting gin along side. The aged at that table was Old Pogue, which was good, but the unaged still won me over.
It was actually Stone Barn Brandyworks which was the source for the oat flour based whiskey. Their 100% rye was the one better as unaged. Both were surprising and wonderful drams to be had. If you find yourself in Portland, they are a must try.
Thanks for the updates and corrections, Corey! */edit*
Next was Mischief Spirits where we sampled both their Fremont Mischief Whiskey as well as their John Jacob bottling, both rye spirits. This stop exemplified for me that most American whiskies do best aging between 1 and 8 years, no longer. I say this as their Fremont Mishief whiskey is aged eight years and to my palate was on the way down from what may have been a peak aging at 6 years, leaving me to prefer their John Jacob offering which I don’t recall showing any age statement, most likely around 12- 24 months in the barrel. While both were good, John Jacob came out the clear top to me.
We then scooted over to the next table for what turned out to be my show favourite: Angel’s Envy. With a name like Lincoln Henderson behind this distillation it shouldn’t be any surprise that this dram topped my list. But it should surprise you, as on paper this dram is an amalgamation of everything I dislike: It is aged in new oak barrels with a 3-4 alligator char. It is a 72% corn mash bill, with a meager 18% rye content. And to be perfectly fair, it comes from a ‘big name’ in the industry. I’m not a fan of heavy char (preferring a light 2 in the barrels), I gravitate to high rye content whiskies, and love the passion of the boutique distillers who haven’t been broken by the industry yet. Well, Lincoln is doing some crazy stuff with a reinvigorated passion which really comes out in the dram. There’s some madness in his combination of mash bill, 4-6 years aging on heavy char, and then finishing another 3-6 months in Ruby Port barrels from Portugal. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a dram by its recipe. This one truly struck me as inspired insanity. So much so we went home with a bottle from the on-premise store, not wanting to wait for the next day to enjoy it again 🙂
Next, we moseyed across to Eastside Distilling, where we sampled their Burnside Bourbon. I was pleasantly surprised by this bourbon, as it finished quite smoothly without hint of the bitter finish I’ve come to expect from high corn based mashes. Unfortunately the two reps manning the table weren’t able to provide more specifics on the mash bill, so I was unable to verify if it truly was a high percent corn mash or if it had a substantial rye content. Surprisingly (or not) I didn’t even noticed that it is bottled at 96 proof… that either tells you how soft it really is or how much I’d had by this point.
To round out the day we finished off at Bull Run Distilling since I was already very familiar with their Temperance Trader Whiskey. It should come as no surprise that I enjoy this ‘high rye’ whiskey given the commentary above. Like Big Bottom, this bottling from Bull Run is not distilled on premise, but rather is a selection of distillate from outside sources. Given the selection that the boys at Bull Run have made, I’d say our palates are very much in line, as this is a wonderful dram to sit back and sip, or to add in as a base for some outstanding cocktails. Plus, Lee and Patrick are good guys to chat with, obviously passionate about what they do, which is brilliantly obvious in their on-premise distilled vodka and rum, both which drink as if they were top shelf whiskies. Also doesn’t hurt that they open their doors to Stuart Ramsay for his Whisky Academy series of lectures and tastings… makes for building a nice little community and connection between enthusiasts and the creators.
All in all, not a single truly disappointing dram was to be had. Obviously some shined more than others, but when it comes down to it our local distillers and artisans are really knocking it out of the park with their varied and quite unique products. I enjoyed the show so much these past two years, I may have to make a point of really promoting it next year to get some of our SoCal contingent to drive/fly up for the weekend and enjoy it too… seems a shame to keep this all to myself 😉
I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of my lovely new decorative purchase from Essential Oil, another local shop… yes, I might have a thing for copper, why do you ask?
You may recall this post a while back where I discovered Big Bottom Whiskey and subsequently fell in love with their port cask finish. So much that I had bought two bottles of it, when I normally would only by one of any single whisk(e)y.
In talking with Ted, the owner, he indicated that the bottles I had tasted and those which I purchased were of batch one and that batch two had been quietly sitting around and would likely be ready sometime in late August. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over to the warehouse when he was bottling up batch two due to a horribly conflicting schedule that week, but I did get out to my local purveyor when they called to tell me it would be in stock the next day. Again, I picked up two bottles…
And here’s where I was actually a bit smart: I had retained 1/4 of a bottle of the first batch with the specific intent of doing my own side-by-side tasting with batch two.
Right off the bat, before even opening the bottles, there’s a noticeable difference: Batch one was aged two years, batch two was aged 3. While the distillate is from the same producer, they are aged for different times and finished in port casks at differing lengths of time as well. But really, that’s all irrelevant until you can actually taste it, right? Or at least until you can read my tasting notes below, after which I’ll likely wax on about more of the differences….
Big Bottom Whiskey, aged 2 years, port cask finish- Batch One
Nose: Heavy caramel followed by fruitiness of the port. Surprisingly no oak on the nose at all.
Flavor: Caramel oak, then the fruit of the port. Deep richness to the palate, and shows off the port finishing.
Finish: Just a hint of chocolate on the back, balanced with the tannins of the oak and fruit.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: B+
Extraneous Notes: The colour on this first batch is a deeper red hue showing the influence of the port cask. I gave this a B+ as it finishes a bit more harshly than a whiskey like this should. I’d expect the port cask finishing to have reduced any lingering harshness to non-existence. Still, quite tasty, so high marks are deserved.
Batch one on the left, Batch two on the right
Closeup of Batch two
Batch one on the left, Batch two on the right
Big Bottom Whiskey, aged 3 years, port cask finish- Batch Two
Nose: This noses hotter than the first batch, with immediate fruit forward, followed by the sweetness of caramel. Overall a mild nose once past the initial heat.
Flavor: Chewier with a mouthfeel reminiscent of nougat. Heavier oak with a deeper more complex caramel note. Light port touch with the fruity sweetness peeking out in the middle.
Finish: Oak tannins then mild char and caramel in the front while a hint of port maintains the background through the length of the finish. The port cask finish on this one has seemingly married all the flavours into a deeper complexity and balance.
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: A-
Extraneous Notes: The colour of this one, oddly enough, was a more orange-ish hue, still rich, but lacking that deep red from batch one. Batch two received an A- here because it doesn’t finish as clean as I’d like. There was a lingering mild bitterness and dryness from the tannins when I had wanted a bit more fruitiness on the end. A wetter finish would have landed this dram at a solid A/A+.
So there you have it, a side by side comparison of batches one and two. I’d actually left some in each glass for Jean to enjoy when she got home (I tasted late afternoon when she was still at work, but I’d quit for the day). But I was a bit cruel about it, as I removed the bottles from the table and made her do a ‘blind’ taste to see if she could pick out which was which. Because batch one’s visual cue would typically indicate ‘older’ and that batch one tasted more of port, she incorrectly chose that as the newer release and noted it was her preferred of the two. Understandably so, since darker colouring tends to make people think ‘older’ and the fruit forwardness of the port finish in batch one lends to her sweeter palate preferences. And I nearly did the same thing too, until I had some of batch two and found my palate was much happier with the balance found there and less of the sweetness of batch one. But this is why there are so many whiskies out there: for every dram, there is a palate that will love it and one that will hate it, and others everywhere in between. Luckily both Jean and I found batches one and two to be equally enjoyable as good drinking whiskies (even if my more technical attempts at notes show less equality).
To wrap this up: Batch one is likely going to be difficult to find at this point, but batch two just hit the local shelves in Portland, Oregon and will likely be making its way out to a liquor store near you soon! Go pick up a bottle or two, you won’t be disappointed in the newer release. And maybe, if you can stave off temptation long enough, you can do a side-by-side with batch three, assuming Ted will be doing one…. Here’s to hoping!
On Friday, I had opportunity to attend TOAST, The Oregon Artisan Spirit Tasting event held in the Tiffany Center’s Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Joining me was my good friend Corey, whom also shares a taste for whiskies like myself, as well as gins and tequilas and beer.
The event was similarly structured to Whiskies of the World, so I was immediately familiar and comfortable with the atmosphere. Specifically, it was a single price entry, and the various distillers were free-pouring rather than the pour-by-ticket method employed by other events. I made an initial lap to get a feel for the offerings at each table, and begin a basic game plan. Realizing quickly that I had just begun walking around, leaving Corey in my wake, I paused to explain my intent and reasoning: I am looking for whiskies first and foremost, as well as to prioritize and make sure I got to the most interesting ones first.
There were a number of American Whiskies, bourbons, and ryes showing at this event. Enough so that I was able to focus nearly all my tastes on just the larger whiskies class and not concern myself with the gins and other liqueurs until the end. Of all the distilleries showing their wares, two really struck my interest: Woodinville Whiskey Co. and Big Bottom Whiskey.
The first of the two, Woodinville Whiskey Co.made a great initial impression on me. While their whiskies were well crafted, what made the impression was their “Age your own whiskey” kit. What a great concept! Provide some clear distillate, an oak barrel, and let the drinker manage the aging process on their own. While no one will be going into business based on the final product from the kit, it is sure to bring a new aspect to the home connoisseur, not only for what the kit will produce, but even after you’ve run the 4-5 uses for whiskey/bourbon you can likely even use the same barrel for even more experimentation with barrel aged cocktails and the like… Yes, I already have my name in for a kit once they become available.
And their whiskey? Yup, that’s darned good too… but you’d expect that from a distillery which can boast mentorship provided by David Pickerell, master Distiller of Maker’s Mark fame. Unfortunately, I did not bring my tasting notebook and as such have only a vague recollection of the whiskies I tried here, noting only that I really enjoyed them as a newcomer to unaged whiskies, bourbons and ryes.
The other distillery to really stand out for me was Big Bottom Whiskey, based locally out of Hillsboro, Oregon. Two things struck me about this particular distillery: the whiskies and the people.
First the whiskies: Offered were two bottlings; the first a 3 year aged American Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Being new to bourbons this one struck me as rather mellow in comparison to some I’d tasted earlier the same evening, and with a rather tempered sweetness followed by some distinct tannins on the finish as I’ve come to expect. The second, however, is where the impression was really made on me: this was a 2 year Straight bourbon whiskey Port cask finished. Now, being a Speyside and port wood finish fan, I was eager to taste a bourbon finished in a port cask, and I will tell you I was not disappointed. One would never mistake this bourbon for a scotch, but the similarities were striking to me. Again, there was a tempered sweetness which brought this drink closer to its port wood finished scotch brethren than most bourbons. While unmistakably bourbon, this one showed a complexity I’ve most typically encountered only in the Speyside port finished scotches. Of course, Big Bottom share a not-so-secret relationship with Woodinville as they also used David Pickerell as a consultant when creating Big Bottom. Hey, its a small community, and when you share, everyone wins!
You can bet I will be taking up Ted on his offer to call him around the time his next batch of port finished bourbon will be ready to taste… and maybe lend a hand in the bottling as well!
I did say two things struck me about Big Bottom Whiskey, and indeed the second was the people, though that may be a bit unfair as they don’t really come second to the whiskey, rather it seems to be equal footing. If you are reading this blog, you likely already have a good understanding of who the 3 Drunken Celts are and how, as a group, our attitude and outlook can be a tad contagious if not overwhelming to some… well the fine people at Big Bottom seem to share that zeal. Ted has the same crazy “what the heck, let’s try it” attitude which is the very same reason we love Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich. Like the 3DC, Ted doesn’t take any of this too seriously; he lets the passion and enjoyment come to the forefront of his creations.
If it is one thing I’ve learned over the past ten years, and which was highlighted in the last two tasting events I’ve attended, it is that while the whiskies are a great thing, it is the people and the passions they carry which really make this a fun, interesting, and exciting endeavor for us all. From the distillers to the critics to the connoisseurs, if you don’t have the passion and can’t find the funny, well your enjoyment of any dram is going to diminish as quickly as you can drink it… keep the passion and find the funny, and that same dram will last you far longer than the simple drink ever will.
Now, I think I need to go find some bottles so I can revisit and provide better tasting notes. I am really sad now that I didn’t bring my notebook with me… But I hadn’t expected such interesting things. Ah, yes, another lesson learned. Oh well, at least I had a good time, and I know Corey did as well since our conversation lasted the entire way home on the Max line as we compared/contrasted the various drams, and discussed the overall industry with admittedly inebriated gusto. Yes, it was indeed a good evening 😉
Ah, March, how I’ve come to love you. But, I’ll admit, I wasn’t looking forward to March 26th and Whiskies of the World this year. Coupled with work stress, not a lot of down time, and the fact that this was a relatively last minute plan (having decided last year that we wouldn’t be returning), I found my frame of mind was such that any excitement I’d had for previous years was simply not to be found this year. Of course I KNEW I’d have a grand time, but there was still a lingering malaise which stayed with me until I was in San Francisco and checking into the hotel. After a serious power nap in the early afternoon, I was finally starting to feel the excitement.
This year was also a bit off anyway, as Raz was unable to join us, along with missing many others from prior years’ attendance. We were a small group this time round, in part due to the late decision to actually attend. That lent to us breaking a few traditions, though we kept two: dinnerlunch before the tasting on Saturday, and closing out Saturday night at the Irish Bank. But this year we didn’t live at the Bank like we have in prior years. Rather we ventured out to other places, explored new bars, and enjoyed the company we did have. (Fergus and I -did- share a drunk gigglefit just before bed Friday night, but nothing like years past…)
Suffice to say the dynamic was different this year, but neither better nor worse than other years. With fewer people it was easier to get tables for meals, and to go a bit more ad hoc in our plans in so much as we didn’t have plans prior or beyond the grand tasting Saturday night. It was a relatively free flowing weekend which allowed us to follow our fancies and go with the flow of things. This was likely the most relaxed year for Fergus and I because of the lack of plans.
But enough of that… here’s Seamus’ tasting notes from the Grand Tasting Saturday evening. I’m going to caveat this right now, however… I noticed a trend in my notes from nearly the start and think my nose and palette may have been off a bit as I am suspect about of few of the notes which kept recurring in various pours which I’d expect to be dissimilar. So, consume these notes with a hint of suspicion, as I may need to revisit some of the drams to confirm the validity here… You’ll also note the last 4 tastings were from the Craft Distiller’s Master Class panel and are bottlings not commercially available at present.
With that said: Seamus’ Whiskies of the World Grand tasting notes
Distiller/bottling: Bulleit Rye
Nose: Mild coffee and toast notes
Flavour: Green grape, hefeweizen, and slight anise
Finish: Long slow burn, rich with the crispness of apple
Length of story: 2.5
Personal Taste: A
Distiller/bottling: Edradour 10 Port finish, Signatory bottling
Nose: All toast with some iodine and a hint of port
Nose: Complex wine and toast with a hint of iodine then moves into caramel.
Flavour: bitter, chocolate covered espresso bean and caramel.
Finish: more bitterness.
Length of story: 4
Personal Taste: C+
Distiller/bottling: Amrut Fusion
Nose: Heavy smoke and iodine
Flavour: Peat followed by more iodine.
Finish: Vanishes. Moves from the peaty iodine, straight into a heavy Laphroaig style in the middle, but finishes quickly with lingering caramel on the end.
Length of story: 4
Personal Taste: C
Distiller/bottling: Highland Park, 1991, Signatory bottling
Nose: Oak then slight iodine.
Flavour: Heavy, heavy peat into caramel
Finish: Sweet, but mellow caramel
Length of story: 3
Personal Taste: C
Distiller/bottling: Pritchard’s Tennessee Whiskey
Nose: Typical sweet and sour of a bourbon but with a bit of anise
Flavour: oak heavy, sweetness of maple syrup.
Finish: heavy on the tannins from oak, a surprise of chocolate just at the end.
Length of story: 3
Personal Taste: B+
Distiller/bottling: Copper Fox Applewood Whiskey (14 months)
Nose: Toasted pear and a tad bit of cherry on the end
Flavour: fruit forward then a great balance of fruit and mash
Finish: long finish lasts into perfect apple.
Length of story: 4
Personal Taste: B+
Distiller/bottling: Balcones Brimstone Texas Blue Corn Whiskey
Nose: A little iodine into toasted oak, but ends with a brine of corn sugars
Flavour: sweet and oakey, more vegetable sugars.
Finish: Tortillas right at the start of the finish, toasted corn and balanced sweetness.
Length of story: 5
Personal Taste: A
Distiller/bottling: St. George Bourbon (4 months)
Nose: Sour corn and a hint of iodine again
Flavour: Young. Bites hard, but has solid sugars.
Finish: Toasted malts, but not pleasantly so.
Length of story: 3
Personal Taste: C+
So there you have it. Not many tastes this year for me as I focused more on a few particulars I was interested in and had some multiples to try and get a clear understanding of them. Of course after a few cask strength/51%abv drams, it became more and more difficult to find that clarity.
Since my return from this year’s tasting, I’ve have a non-trivial number of friends and acquaintances ask me how to start learning about whiskies. Most of these people have only had a tenuous introduction to whiskies by way of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or possibly Johnny Walker; not exactly a proper introduction in my book, and likely why most have never followed further down the whiskies walkway. So, in an effort to help some of the newcomers I’d like to provide a quick start guide to learning more about whiskies and enjoying it in the process.
Seamus’ 4 step starter course on whiskies appreciation:
Find a friend who also wants to learn.
Go to a bar, start ordering whiskies, neat.
Sip, and discuss.
Rinse and repeat… practice, practice, practice.
While there ARE more subtleties to the above 4 steps, the key is to drink whiskies you’ve not had and compare them. Soon you will find that you are able to discern particular flavours you like, and some which you don’t. One of the biggest lightbulbs for me was the realization that knowing what you don’t like is even more important than knowing what you do like; and the only way to figure that out is to try a many as you can.
A decent bar is a great place to start learning as it is cost efficient and you aren’t going to be stuck with bottles you don’t enjoy. Heading to a bar with a friend and ordering two whiskies (neat, so you can actually taste the whiskies as ice/cold dulls the taste buds) will give you both opportunity to talk through what you are tasting and compare your notes with each other. Don’t be afraid of price or to order glasses of bottles you’ve not heard of; in fact seek them out! Remember you are here to learn and sip, not shoot and get drunk. Try not to order the same dram twice unless you really want to revisit it to see if you really liked it. After all, practice does make perfect, and the more whiskies you taste, the more you will refine your particular preferences for your drams. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a snob, it means you’ll learn more about what you like in your whiskies and will soon be able to articulate the flavours you enjoy and the ones you don’t.
Of course you can also ask a friend who has been doing this for a while to help setup and guide you through a starter tasting. I know a number of us have enough bottles in our private collections to run a brilliant personal tasting and many would be more than happy to share a dram with a friend who wants to learn! Heck, if there’s enough of a demand, a few of the 3DC may even be swayed into hosting a starter class for you and help you get your feet wet with your first foray into the world of whiskies beyond Jack, Jim, or Johnny!
You’ll soon come to see why we’ve been attending Whiskies of the World for so many years now: there’s always something new to learn, and you can never get enough practice to improve your skills and enjoyment of the liquor of life we call Whiskies.
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