How To Drink Whiskey

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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

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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

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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!

Bourbon Beauties

 

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Bourbon has made a comeback in recent years. In my mind, it is an American tradition. After all George Washington helped make bourbon what it is today. I also find it to be quite versatile. Whether you’re just starting out with whiskey or well versed, there is much to like about how accessible Bourbon can be as well as how complex it can be.

By definition, bourbon has to be distilled and aged in the US (but not limited to Kentucky), consist of at least 51% corn and aged in new white oak charred barrels. Bourbon barrels can only be used once and are often then used for aging other spirits like rum. They are also sent to other distilleries and countries (for e.g. Scotland) where other types of whiskies can be aged. You can choose to age other liquids in these bourbon barrels. Like maple syrup!

Historically, Americans drank white whiskey, essentially moonshine, until bourbon was transported via river routes and aged in barrels to make the taste mellower, smoother, sweeter and full bodied. In today’s world, this is also an area where you see a lot of innovation with smaller craft distilleries.

What are some of your favorite bourbons and why do you like them? Here are some of mine in no particular order. Obviously, Pappy Van Winkle needs to introduction but here are some less expensive options:

Bulleit Bourbon: 45% ABV, Kentucky Straight Bourbon aged for about 6 years and contains about 28% rye along with corn. To me, Bulleit Bourbon is very easy to drink and can be had neat. I love its reddish color. It is rich, velvety, fruity and has the perfect balance of vanilla and spice – where the spicy notes come from the rye. It also tastes a little bit like toffee. If a friend isn’t too familiar with bourbon, I like to start them with Bulleit. It always works and they always end up asking for more because it’s so delicious.

Angel’s Envy: 43% ABV, Kentucky Straight Bourbon aged for a about 5-6 years and then rested in port casks for about for about 5-6 months.. It is created by the very talented Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson. Lighter in color, what I love about this bourbon is the end espresso and chocolate note as well as its citrus/slightly minty smell. Also, depending on how sensitive your palette is you might also get a hint of bitter cherry and almond flavor. This is another bourbon I find to be very accessible because of it’s lower ABV.

Four Roses Small Batch: 50% ABV, Kentucky Single Barrel Straight Bourbon aged for at least 8 years made from 60% corn, 30% rye and 5% malt.  This is one of my all time favorites and I really want to visit the distillery too! While I love this bourbon for its plum and maple syrup notes along with a spicy rye finish and rosy color, I especially love its backstory. Created by Paul Jones Jr in then 1800s, the love of his life swore to wear four roses to a ball should she accept his proposal of marriage. This bourbon is a labor of love and we can tell this romance had a happy ending. What do you think he would’ve called it, had she rejected his proposal?

Kings County Bourbon: 45% ABV,  distilled right here in Brooklyn, aged less than four years and made from locally sourced NY corn along with Scottish malted barley, this is a bourbon like no other. It is sweet, smokey, oaky and, to me, smells like Indian spices. This is great on its own or on the rocks. I also like that it is not as sweet as it smells. There is a certain intrigue behind this bourbon. When you have a chance look up Colin Spoelman, the owner of Kings County Distillery as well Nicole Austin, their master blender. In fact, King County Distillery is a must visit if you live in the area. Or even if you don’t!

Basil Hayden: 40% ABV lightly bodied, small batch, aged for about 8 years, made with corn, rye and barley, it is named after a distiller of the same name from the 1700’s. This bourbon is quite dry and tastes strongly of spicy rye along with a minty finish. It also tastes a little bit like tea to me and always reminds me of the scene in Django Unchained when Leonardo DiCaprio orders a bourbon and sweet tea cocktail. I think this whiskey would taste great on its own but also with a splash of sweet tea.

Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon: 47% ABV though this can vary. This is a single barrel chill filtered bourbon. Besides having a characteristic bottle with 8 different race horse stopper designs the collection of bottles tell a full story of the race horse figurine. To taste, this whiskey is more complex. Starting with caramel and honey notes, its mouth feel is quite silky. To me this bourbon tastes ever so slightly like Creme Brûlée.

Hudson’ Baby Bourbon: 45% ABV, from Tuthilltown Distillery first to operate in NY state after Prohibition this bourbon is aged for 3 months and made from 100% corn! Each bottled is hand waxed and numbered giving it that personal touch. You should also visit their distillery and ask them about their sonic maturation process. Quite different to the taste, I like this for its ginger spice flavor which is more prominent on the rocks. This bourbon is also quite oaky. While some might say this is a beginner’s bourbon, I feel this has quite an acquired taste so this one bourbon that you might not like at first sip. But give it time and I promise you’ll feel the love.

Knob Creek Single Barrel: 60% ABV this has a kick to it! Kentucky Straight Bourbon aged 9 years this is a complex bourbon. High in proof and flavor, it tastes of vanilla, almonds (to me), and all spice. This is a bold whiskey so I prefer it with a splash of water of 2 ice cubes over drinking it neat. Adding ice to it is always interesting to me because ice enhances the flavor and makes this bourbon taste like apple pie. Also, if you’re like me and you get excited by the difference in flavor of a single barrel small batch bourbon, this is the bourbon for you.

Big Bottom Bourbon Wine Cask Line: 45-50% ABV, from Oregon this bourbon line stands out for its 6 month Port and Zinfandel cask finish process and its 36% rye content. I like this line of bourbons a lot because Ted Pappas (the creator of BBB) takes great care in pairing their bourbons with the right type of wine cask. While the Port cask bourbon tastes like rum raisin, cherry, brandy and red wine, the Zinfandel cask bourbon tastes a bit like pear, cinnamon and spice. I can’t pick one over the other, so you’ll have to try both and tell me what you think!

 

Craft Whisky vs. Craftmanship

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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.