Whiskey Wedge

From time to time we also get requests to take a look at whiskey related books and products in addition to the actual whiskey. Gary was kind enough to take a stab the The Whiskey Wedge by Corkcile which retail for about $17.95. Here are his thoughts…

Writing reviews of whiskey is still new territory, although the format is fairly standard (while there are variations, nearly all of us comment on the nose, taste, and finish). How to write a review of a whiskey tool was a challenge. I started with what questions I would want to answer. My list started with these:

  1. How much would the Whiskey Wedge cool my whiskey?
  2. Would whiskey get around the edges of the cube right away, causing it to break away prematurely and become an “obstacle” to pleasant drinking?
  3. How long would it take before the ice would break away from the glass, and how large would the remaining cube be at that time?
  4. What might surprise me along the way that I hadn’t thought of initially?

With those in mind, I started to play with the Whiskey Wedge. After opening the package, I washed the glass and mold – twice. The mold still had a chemical odor, though as long as it doesn’t impart this on the ice (and my whiskey!), it isn’t a big deal (spoiler: it didn’t). After filling the glass per the instructions, it looked like some water may have worked its way around the mold, although it would be a very small amount. Filling right to the fill line is tricky, since the area you are filling is getting smaller and smaller. Twice I over filled, and had to tip the glass on its side to remove some of the water. I’m not sure if having it a bit above the fill line would do any harm, but wanted to follow their instructions as best I could.

Despite this effort, the ice barely came out of the top.
WW1
This made removing the mold a bit of a struggle, but not too bad. I realized that I didn’t know how much the glass would hold – so I started with 2 oz of Stagg Jr. bourbon (134.4 proof, 67-68 degrees F). This left a fair amount of room in the glass, so I added another 2 oz which still left about a ½ inch of room from the lip of the glass.
WW2
For me, 4 oz is a major pour, and likely my only one of the night. After just under 2 minutes, I tested the temperature of the whiskey, and it had already dropped to 48 degrees. While it had cooled quickly, my first couple of sips stilled seemed quite stiff. I noticed that as the ice was melting, the water seemed to be settling at the bottom of the glass, to where the “point” was perfectly clear. I wanted to mix it up a bit, but simply giving the glass a casual turn was not effective. I used my thermometer as a stirrer, which mixed the water and whiskey nicely.
WW3
After 15 minutes, the whiskey was a cool 34 degrees – much colder than other tools I had used (although to be fair, I hadn’t employed a frozen glass with those!). After stirring, the dilution you expect from some ice was working much better – so I definitely recommend employing a stir stick. I sipped the drink for an hour, not coming close to finishing it. At that point, the whiskey had only warmed to 38 degrees – still plenty cold, and syrupy sweet.

Feeling satisfied, I revisited my initial questions.

  1. How much would the Whiskey Wedge cool my whiskey?
    • Quite a bit! From 68 degrees to 34 degrees in 15 minutes, and held it below 40 degrees even an hour later. I was very pleased on this front!
  2. Would whiskey get around the edges of the cube right away, causing it to break away prematurely and become an “obstacle” to pleasant drinking?
    • Another score. I approached this with healthy skeptisicism, and while I certainly wasn’t rooting for failure, I kinda thought it would break off the bottom sooner than I wanted it to. Hell, I even set the glass on the table with some force after 45 minutes, and it never budged. In fact, after one hour, I dumped the remaining whiskey in another glass, and held the Whiskey Wedge upside down over my sink . . . and the cube still stuck like glue to the glass. Again – flying colors in my book.WW4
  3. How long would it take before the ice would break away from the glass, and how large would the remaining cube be at that time?
    • If it would have happened, it would have been more than an hour later – and the cube at one hour was a pretty manageable size (I’d say it was between ¼ and 1/3 the size of the original cube).
  4. What might surprise me along the way that I hadn’t thought of initially?
    • The bit about needing a stirrer is something I hadn’t anticipated. I’m used to just holding the top of my glass and rotating it a bit to mix things up, but that wasn’t very effective given that the cube is stationary.

All in all, if you are looking to chill your whiskey without diluting it too quickly (but still diluting it over time), I have no reservations recommending the Whiskey Wedge (although I would also recommend having a stirrer on hand).

Thanks to Kim Miller at Corkcicle for providing the sample!

– Gary

Cascade of Variables

I was perusing another blog recently and a saw a question about the rerelease of Old Grand Dad bourbon in all new packaging. The post went on to talk about the history of the brand. One of the commenters asked about why there is so much difference between the Old Grand Dad made by National Distillers back in the day and the one now made by Suntory Beam. That got me thinking about all the variables that go into how a particular whiskey tastes. I’ve seen focus pieces in magazines and books around certain aspects (wood management, etc.) of flavor drivers but nothing more comprehensive. Frequently, you will hear someone in the industry say that X% of the flavor comes from the wood. Whatever that percentage is I’m not going to argue with it. However, the remainder is made up of many more factors than you might think. So let’s talk about that for a few minutes.

Mashbill: The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about how a particular whiskey gets its flavor is the mashbill, or the blend of grains that make up the mash used to make the distiller’s beer. The most basic example of this is bourbon versus scotch. Single malt scotch is a barley base while bourbon is corn first with lesser components of rye, wheat, and barley. When you taste a lot of younger bourbons especially, that corn forward flavor really shines through.

Grain Varieties: After the blend of different types of grains is established the next stop in the cascade of flavor would be the varieties of each grain used. The single malt scotch industry is a great example of this. It’s all barley but the varietals vary from distillery to distillery. Some use Optic, others use Golden Promise, yet others use a mix of numerous varietals. The various varieties were first developed for increased yield and environmental resistance but there are flavor nuances too.

Malting & Peat: If you’re working with barley, whether or not you malt that barley has a distinctive impact on the flavor. If you malt all of it (single malt scotch), some of it (Irish whiskey), or none of it (some American whiskeys) then the end result can be drastically different. Taking it a step further, how you malt the barley can be one of the most impactful components of flavor? Peat smoke anyone?

Water: After getting all our grains sorted we move to the next component…water. Water is water, right? No, it isn’t. Given the environment and location, the water source can affect the flavor. Is it filtered through peat bogs or limestone? Traces of those can be found in the water. When you also take into account that a lot of distillers cut their whiskey for bottling with the same water used in distillation then as much as 60% of what’s in the bottle is that water. Do you know why Four Roses uses five distinct yeast strains? According to Master Distiller Jim Rutledge it came about as Seagrams consolidated their bourbon operations to the one facility. They didn’t want to lose the array of flavors they had so they found yeast strains in their yeast banks that mirrored the flavors from the water sources at the closed facilities.

Yeast: That was one of my better segues into yeast. So you put the grains and the water in the fermentation tanks but you need that yeast to get the whole sugar to alcohol conversion going. The yeast you use can have a significant impact on the finished product. Just look to Four Roses again. Try the five different bourbons they produce using each mashbill but with different yeasts and you begin to see a distinct difference.

Fermentation Time: How long do you let the mash ferment? There is no one right answer. Longer you get more sugar conversion and more dead yeast. Does that impact the flavor? Probably. Is it noticeable to the consumer? I have no idea.

Fermentation Vessel: Pine washback or stainless steel fermentation tank? Last year I visited a local fellow who is using large plastic tubs. Again, the method used could well be impacting the flavor of the finished product.

Still Type: Coffey, Column, Continuous, or Pot Still. What’s your weapon of choice? All impart different flavor profiles on their spirits. Woodford is a great example. Did you ever notice that no matter what whiskey they make at Woodford there is a uniquely Woodford note to the nose? Why is it so different from other bourbons or even the other Brown-Forman bourbons? Even the recently released Woodford Rye has it on the nose. I’m betting it’s that pot still they use.

Still Design: This takes the previous variable and pushes it down to a more minute level. It’s easier to see in the scotch industry. Among single malt distillers they will often talk about the shape, volume, and height of their stills in discussing the aspects of flavor. It factors in copper contact and how much reflux passes through versus rolling back into the still.

Distillation Proof: The proof or alcohol strength that the spirits comes off the still at will also impact the flavor. I’ll lump this in with barreling proof for sake of not splitting too may hairs (too late?). A great example of this is Booker’s. Beam uses the same wood, same mash, same so location, same still, etc., etc. with Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s. However, Booker’s comes off at 125 proof versus 135 for everything else. They do it so they don’t have to cut it before going into the barrel but it does give Booker’s a distinctive profile.

Number of Distillations: Once, twice, three times a whiskey. Basically, the more times you distill a particular spirit the less of the impurities there are that pass into the final product. Scotch is usually distilled twice and Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times as basic examples.

Cuts: During distillation a choice is made on the front and back end of the distillation run. That choice cuts off the first part (heads) and the last part (tails) to be redistilled or disposed of. In those first and last parts are chemical compounds (congeners, etc.) that are seen as impurities but also flavor components. Depending on how much you cut off rather than let pass through to the next stage will impact your flavor.

Wood Type: New oak, refill hogshead, sherry cask, European Oak, American Oak, etc. All these are examples of the references you will hear about whiskeys. It is probably the most talked about factor affecting flavor, especially in scotch. A “sherried scotch” anyone? That’s the big thing that the cool kids are drinking now right? The wood type and what, if anything, that previously resided in the that wood will give distinctive flavors to the finished product.

Barrel Size: Now that you’ve determined your desired wood you have to figure out how big of a barrel you want. Smaller barrels give you more wood to whiskey contact but can leave the whiskey overly woody in flavor. It’s a delicate balance.

Warehousing: Stone walls or wood? Single story or four story rickhouses? The size, shape, design, and location of the warehouse can impact the maturation environment and further impact the flavor.

Barrel Location: Taking the warehouse location one step farther, within a given warehouse where the barrels are can also impact it. Some distilleries do barrel rotations throughout the life of their barrels to drive consistency. Others realize that certain parts of the warehouse are better for certain flavors and as a result certain brands come from those areas. Buffalo Trace produces a large number of brands from just two ryed bourbon mashbills. Some of those are picked only from certain locations within the warehouses. They recently released experimental releases from three distinct warehouse locations to emphasize this point.

Climate: The climate also affects the maturation which in turn affects the flavors. In Kentucky for example there are much more extreme fluctuations in temperature through the course of a year than in Scotland. That causes the whiskey to push deeper into the wood and extract farther back out with a regularity that pulls flavor compounds out of the wood more effectively.

Age: This one is kind of a no brainer but I added it for completeness.

That’s 18 variables on my list. I realize that this is not an exhaustive list. It’s a list of variables that most come to mind for me when thinking about flavor factors in whiskey. If you feel there are critical ones that I’ve missed then by all means post and we can continue the dialogue. Regardless of how many are on your list I hope the point is made that there’s more to the flavor of a whiskey than wood and water.

SMWS Cask 93.61

SMWS Cask No. 93.61
Campbeltown
58.3% ABV
$?
Date Distilled: June 1999
US Allocation:
January 2015 Outturn Release

What the SMWS Says:
On the nose, the sweet charabanc of sugar puffs, Crunchy-nut cornflakes, fudge cookies, honey and chocolate flapjacks collided into the savoury wall of smoky bacon crisps, barbecued prawns and baked ham. The palate was also a crash site – big, rich and chew, with cinder toffee, spiced sultanas and dark honey on toast scattered in a frightening wreckage of charcoal, ash, liquorice sticks, peat reek and industrial garages. The reduced nose suggested a welder on a Calmac ferry enjoying a Daim Bar. The palate – sweet and (we thought) acceptably dirty with a big spicy finish. From the ‘quiet outsider’ distiller in Campbeltown.

Drinking tip: To aid the visceral enjoyment of a brutal rugby match.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Wow what an interesting dichotomy playing out here. The smoky and savory are close dance partners with the sweeter confectionery notes all while sherry cream plays the chaperone.
Palate: Damn that’s good. The alcohol is there but it is so rich and viscous you hate to add water. That confectionery sweetness from the nose carries into the front of the palate with a rich honey that fades into more of the campfire notes.
Finish: The proof gives it a little heat but after that clears the throat it leaves you with a pleasant sooty woody finish.
Comments: This is a great dram but it drinks at a much higher proof than your typical single malt. Add the water but do it drop by drop until you get it just right. A couple of drops too much and you’ve killed it. It turns bland, uninspired, and the richness is gone.
Rating: Must Try

SMWS Cask No 36.67

SMWS Cask No. 36.67
Speyside, Spey
59.9%% ABV
Distilled June 2004
$?
US Allocation: ? Bottles
January 2015 Outturn Release

What the SMWSA Says:
A good example of whiskey transformed by water – we didn’t know what to make of the nose – quite fruity (baked apple, fruit salad, watermelon, lemon curd, pear-drops) with an odd assortment of other aromas – Hawaiian pizza (pineapple, ham, pizza dough) pine forests and model kits. With water, suddenly the sweetness was released – caramel wafers, honeycomb crunch ice-cream and vanilla fudge. The unreduced palate seemed sweet and sour – pineapple dusted with chilli and salt, peppery Cream Soda and a slightly metallic finish – but water settled it down to zesty key lime pie and biscuity flavours – intensely tasty. Named after Speyside’s biggest mountain.

Drinking tip: As an aperitif or to awaken the senses.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Aromatic fruit cream with pears and pineapples being the most prevalent. Water opens up a honey sweetness and a back note reminiscent of craft root beer.
Palate: Surprisingly rich for a young malt with a wisp of smokey wood. Water mellows the heat but also the richness. It’s very easy to drink when you add the water but it settles into more of a malty note that has less dimensions to it.
Finish: It finishes much for malty and cereal like than expected. Not unpleasant but it leaves me wanting a drink of water.
Comments: This dram has a bit of a love/hate relationship to water. It mellows the alcohol and makes it more drinkable but also makes it more bland. The nose is better with water but the palate is a bit worse off. Play with the water on this one with care.
Rating: Stands Out

Review sample provided courtesy of the SMWSA and is available to society members through their website or 800.990.1991.

Event Notice: American Whisk(e)y at Holeman & Finch

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H&F Whisk(e)y Society Presents: American Whiskey
Saturday, February 21st
12pm to 3pm

Join Whiskey Specialist, Casey Teague, and special guests Michael Anderson and Tommy Williams of local distillery Independent Distilling, for a tasting of a range of unique American Whiskey. Discuss, discover, and taste styles of bourbon, rye, corn, and malt whiskey from old and new distilleries alike. The tasting will spotlight ten whiskies ranging from corn whiskey made by Anderson and Williams in Decatur to Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 year old from the George T. Stagg Distillery. The lineup will also feature a number of special appearances including: Van Winkle 12 year old, Four Roses 2014 Small Batch, Willett Exploratory Cask Finish, Parker’s Heritage 13 year old Wheat Whiskey, and few more to round out the spectrum of American distilling. The tasting will include appetizers and the classic H&F Burger all for $110.