Drum Lesson

Ready for your drum lesson? Ever wondered about the different kinds of whiskey barrels? Here’s some key knowledge from The Whiskey Reviewer:



American Standard Barrel (200 liters): Because U.S. whiskey laws require most types of American whiskeys to use new barrels, the ASB has become the foundation of the world whisky industry.


Hogshead (225 liters): The “hogshead” has been an English unit of measurement since at least the 15th Century. Today the term often refers to a barrel made using recycled ASB staves. Five ASBs are broken down and rebuilt with new barrel heads as four hogsheads. This is the second most common type of whisky barrel in the world, after the ASB they are drawn from.


Gorda (700 liters): This huge barrel was once used in the American whiskey industry, but is almost never seen anymore, and even then only as a blending vessel. The reason for its near extinction is its size and difficulty to maneuver in warehouses and also to char.


Madeira Drum (650 liters): Squat Madeira casks are made using very thick French oak staves. In the whisky industry they are most often used as a finishing cask, and less frequently for primary maturation.


Port Pipe (650 liters): Compared to their Madeira cousins, Port Pipes resemble giant ASBs. As the name implies, they are used to mature the barrel aged versions of Port wine.


Sherry Butt (500 liters): These tall casks are built with thicker staves, and are the most common type of cask in the sherry industry, and thus the most common sherry cask in the whisky industry. The demand for Sherry butts in the Scotch industry in particular is so great that a whole supporting Sherry butt industry has grown up to support it, seasoning the casks with a Sherry style wine that is usually distilled into brandy afterwards rather than bottled as Sherry.


Sherry Puncheon (500 liters): This cask uses thinner staves of Spanish oak, and is a secondary barrel type for the Sherry industry. Afterwards they are reused in the whisky industry, often for secondary rather than primary maturation.


Barrique (300 liters): Barriques are a type of wine cask, bound with wood hoops in place of metal, and are used for wine cask finishes.


Quarter Cask (50 liters): These resemble smaller ASBs, and are known as “firkins” in the brewing community. Smaller barrels of this type are used to get more interaction with the wood in a shorter space of time, and quarter casks were well-established in the Scotch industry long before the modern American micro-distillery boom.


Blood Tub (40 liters): This brewers cask is infrequently used by Scotch whisky-makers, and for the same reasons as one might choose a quarter cask. In terms of appearance, these are ovoid barrels, designed to be carried on the backs of horses and mules.


Why Drink Whiskey?


whiskey_628Besides being absolutely delicious (in my opinion!), to drink whiskey is to partake in history. From a favorite of George Washington who founded one of the most successful distilleries in America to walking the Malt Whisky Trail in Scotland, my favorite part of whiskey is the passion and care that goes into making it. Lasting relationships form over this passion. Just visit any distillery you will see what I mean about long lasting friendships. There is no room for arrogance and distillers are some of the most talented but humble people I’ve ever met. There is a reason whiskey is called “Aqua Vitae” or the water of life.

Whiskey is also extremely diverse so there is a whiskey out there for you. One that speaks to you, one that fits your palette, your lifestyle, one that you can be proud to display in your bar. The one thing I’ve learnt in all my years drinking and talking about whiskey is that the more I see the less I know. This is especially true now as more people are cross over to brown spirits and explore the world of complexity, barrel aging and blending beyond the art of mixed drinks (which is an art form in its own realm).

Whiskey is also extremely fascinating because what you taste also depends on the type of person you are! What you had to eat earlier that day, how sensitive your palette is and the types of flavors/smells you grew up with that might evoke a memory when you sip a whiskey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you ought to taste in a whiskey. It is likely that what you taste could be very different from your friend might. How cool is that? Another reason to drink with a friend!

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, co-authors of “Guide to Urban Moonshining” said it best. “Whiskey is designed for company, and it is best shared.” This is why I love whiskey. I’ve met some of the most fascinating people over a glass of whiskey. I hope this never changes.

Where to Start?


If you’re looking to get into whiskey and wondering where to start, here are some fun suggestions. Overall, it really does depend on your palette but I think these should help .

If you’re in America, you can start with the classics like Makers Mark, Jim Beam bourbon and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee American Whiskey. They are American traditions and a Jack and coke is a great starting point. In fact, some people swear by their Jack and coke.  I, personally, started with Jameson. I find it fairly approachable and it great as a shot, on the rocks and in a ginger ale. Jameson and Ginger is also fun to say.  If you’re looking to drink scotch, Glenfiddich is a fairly approachable single malt. Monkey Shoulder, though new, is another approachable scotch.

There are also flavored whiskies like Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Crown Royal Maple and my new favorite; King County Distillery’s chocolate “flavored” whiskey, if you can find it (made from leftover cocoa husks from Mast Brothers Chocolate).  These are approachable and delicious so you can drink them neat or on the rocks. The only rule I have about ordering on the rocks, is make sure you tell the bartender how many cubes of ice you want (I usually ask for 1 or 2 ice cubes, so the whiskey is chilled, diluted but not too diluted).

Another great place to start is with classic whiskey cocktails like a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or a Rob Roy (I personally love the Rob Roy cocktail. The balance of sweet vermouth and smoky scotch is perfection to me – and it was created right here in New York!).

To find out more about each type of whiskeys (like Japanese whiskies) and some of my favorites in each, please visit My Favorites or come to my whiskey tasting events!

How To Drink Whiskey


You might be wondering “How do I drink whisky? Do I order it neat or do I order it on the rocks?” The simple answer? It doesn’t matter. The secret is confidence.

Overall, the general rule of thumb is if the proof is 90 or higher, drink it with a splash of water or 1 to 2 ice cubes so it allows you to dilute the alcohol taste and anything less than 90 proof you can have it neat. But the more important rule to remember is “Whisky is like looking for a serious relationship.” Try it many ways before you commit to the way you like it.

What I like to do, is order any whisky neat first so I can really taste it. (That’s what all distillers do!). Then I ask for either a splash of water or 2 ice cubes. I do this because it gives me the best of both worlds. The thing you have to know is adding water or ice changes the flavor and can bring out floral, herbal or smoky notes that you may not have noticed before.  It can also diminish certain flavors which changes the experience. Also, if you’re drinking a rye whiskey for the first time, having it with 2 cubes of ice and letting them dissolve a bit might also help you get accustomed to the spicy flavor. The beauty of trying the same whisky in different ways is that you just might be pleasantly surprised each time. And that’s a relationship to commit to.

So next time you’re out, just own it and order it how you want it. Don’t be surprised if, eventually, you find your friends following your lead. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery.

Let me know what you end up ordering and how. Sláinte!

The Beauty of Spice


This has to be one of my favorite topics through my whisky journey. Must be because I’m such a foodie and Indian. We Indians love our spicy food!

I love how spice can change the experience of a whisky. This depends on the ingredients actually being used (for e.g. cinnamon, vanilla, cloves) or the aging and distilling process of a whisky (for e.g. in a Rye whiskey).

This is why flavored whiskies and Rye whiskies are so fun to try and open you to a wide world of experiences. For e.g. Kentucky Bourbon, Bird Dog has a hot cinnamon flavored whisky that is 80 proof but the cinnamon makes it seem like it is higher proof. This is great if you’re getting used to whisky and wanted to try a lower proof first.

Rye whiskies, on the other hard, are so multi faceted. Take for example, The Hudson Manhattan Rye. Not only is it the first legal rye whiskey to be distilled in the Hudson Valley in 70 years, it is probably one of the most interesting in my mind. Aromas of toffee and vanilla, the first note that hits you is honey and rye (of course) with a spicy and smoky finish. The entire experience is so smooth to the taste and light weight in body, that you can’t help but smile and feel you’ve stumbled upon something unique.

Spice is the variety of life! Namaste.

The Art Of Blended Whiskey


Blended whisky/whiskey is a great topic for discussion. At the heart of this concept, lies innovation, imagination and breaking traditional rules that define different types of whiskies. My favorite whiskies that fit this bill include all Compass Box whiskies (like Spice Tree and Hedonism).

John Glaser, Master Blender and founder of Compass Box said “Tradition is a moving target.” His dream was to create various blended scotch whiskies that could fit any palette, thereby creating his own traditions. To me this is extremely motivating and gives life to the fact that the world of whisky is so complex, so diverse that there really is no limit to what what can do.

This doesn’t mean that blended whiskies are a new concept. A common misconception is that single malts are not blended. This is not true. Some of the oldest whiskies (like Macallan and Jameson) are also blended across various barrels. Single malt just means single distillery. Whether you are drinking a modern blend or a traditional one, blended whiskies are a careful process and carefully executed to allow for consistency in taste, mouth feel and finish. (Of course, source of grain and the pH levels of the water source can also affect the taste).

Single barrel whiskies is where it is harder to control the taste and consistency because flavors are contingent on the barrel being used. This is also very cool because each barrel release is a unique product with its own story to tell. If you’re a single barrel whisky collector, this is the area to completely geek out. I know I do. But I digress.

Going back to the world of blended whiskies the other aspect I like is the art of home experimentation with infusions (with fruits and spices) and various blends at home. For example, you can take a Peat Monster which is extremely smoky and rich and mix it with another whisky like a Glenfiddich12 which is very approachable. Then you can play around with proportions to fit your palette. You never know, you might become a Master Blender yourself one day!

Craft Whisky vs. Craftmanship


If you’re well versed in the recent rage in the whiskey world then you’ve probably heard the term “craft whisky.” This is quite an over used term right now. Essentially, craft whisky is used to refer to small batch whiskies created by local distilleries. Examples of these are Hudson Distillery whiskies, Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn, NY and Kings County Distillery – one of the oldest distilleries in NYC.

Craft whisky is so huge right now is because it fits right in with the growing culture of DIY and being the master of your own destiny. It allows the distiller to experiment and make her or his own rules. For example, while traditional bourbons are supposed to contain at least 51% corn (most contain about 60% or 70% corn), some craft distilleries create bourbons with as much as 80% corn.  If you ever have a chance, visit your local craft distillery to see how they’re changing history. It’s quite fascinating.

History, however, also brings me to the topic I like to call craftsmanship. The idea behind tradition and the art of perfecting something to carry on for generations to come. This is the realm where the oldest single malt scotches live. The people who carefully learn this art form and live it as a common value system. People who take pride in this expertise. These are traditionalists who have grown with this art form, so they do not always take to the modern art of craft whiskies which thrive on customization and experimentation.

Isn’t this is a great debate? This is a topic of many whisky tastings I’ve held. While I appreciate both disciplines (or lack there of), I am always fascinated at how strongly whisky drinkers feel about this. I will admit that I am partial to craft distilleries. The more I discover and learn from them, the more excited I get. Craft distillers give me hope of taking something I am passionate about (whisky) and one day making it my own.