Like a kid in a candy store, there may be no greater time to be a Bourbon/Whiskey/Scotch enthusiast. The Irish and Scottish have for many generations honed the fine art of distilling, and over the last decade America has upped the ante with the evolution of our very own expression, Bourbon.
Like in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we are perhaps at times feeling like Charlie standing in Bills Candy Shop; staring wide-eyed, just as excited and a bit overwhelmed perhaps.
Our number one goal here is to help explore the World of Whiskey that is unfolding. To enjoy is first on our agenda, but you must agree that to do just that, exploring and discovering is just as much fun. To taste, to try, to educate should be as much a fun journey as the satisfaction of leaning back at the end of a long day and enjoying the fruits of your labor.
What better way than simple 1 ounce tastings of different whiskeys to compare and contrast, to discover what your palate may savor. The following are some of the ways we've dreamed up to help you find out just what you may enjoy:
A selection of two 1 ounce tastings
A 'perfect' pairing is a subjective approach. The pairing may be that of contrast such as a high rye versus a high corn grain; compliment each other such as a small batch versus a single barrel selection from a single distillery; or left-field thinking like low alcohol versus high alcohol content; or seeing how a local distilleries whiskey compares to the big boys over in Scotland. All will reveal different aspects of the spirits themselves, but something that may be missed if not sitting down and tasting either side by side.
A selection of three 1 ounce tastings
A lot of distilleries today in the US offer their base-line bourbon or whiskey 'small batch', as well as a growing number are introducing 'single barrel' variations, as well as 'high rye' expressions. Even some are experimenting with flavors, fluctuations in alcohol content, and 'finishing' aging in alternative casks such as Sherry, Port Wine, and Madeira barrels.
You may also wish to explore different regions, countries, and even the lengths of the aging process as they can have a profound effect on any whiskey. The Irish may have invented it, and yes the Scots may have perfected the process further, just as we may have put our own spin on the expression, so too is the rest of the world contributing to the choir their own verse. The Irish triple-distill their whiskey traditionally, while the Scots only do so two times, lending to a more smoother Irish taste, while the Scot offerings keep some of the peatier and smokier elements of Scotland's. Even though the Japanese modeled their process from day one after that of the Scottish traditions, the local climates and limited blending variations afforded by Scotland's many options have created a unique product all their own, not a "Scotland Junior" legacy.
A selection of four 1 ounce tastings
While most of traditional exploring can be achieved by a three-flight offering, there are some instances where a fourth offering adds welcome discussion to the conversation. In the realm of Bourbons, the Knob Creek Distillery if the first that comes to mind. While they have their 'base-line' Small Batch offering, they also give us High Rye and Single Barrel variations to enjoy. What they also bring is a fourth, a Smoked Maple Bourbon, that is proving quite enjoyable.
Ireland has four distinct whiskey making processes, that having the chance to taste side by side could prove just as intriguing. As well as a world tour of founders Ireland, innovators Scotland, and young upstarts US Bourbons, you must now include a fourth - the new kids on the block, Japan.
A selection of six 1 ounce tastings
Six ounces of straight whiskey in one sitting you say? Call me a cab, pour me into a dixie cup and wish me well you may say also! Truth be told if you having that second or third Martini or Manhattan, you are surely imbibing in six to nine ounces of alcohol in one sitting. And let's also be honest, who has 'just one' when they go out?
Granted the concept is designed more for a sharing or table offering, but there are a few variations that come to mind where this level of exploring does lend itself well. The first is to explore the burgeoning New Hampshire distilleries, there now being six or so as of this posting. To see how these young upstarts are faring side by side is something of interest, as well as perhaps discovering 'a new favorite' right here in our own back yard.
Another design that lends to this variation is Scotland. Over the centuries, the water, land and sea has created six distinct regions. Though the country itself is not that great of an expanse size-wise, you can literally drive 100 miles in any one direction and discover pronounced differences in what their distilleries are doing. Just by how their water gets from where it begins, the different mineral make-up that the water flows through, the influences of sea and air, the peat they use - so many subtle influences can have major ramifications on a finished product.
A 1oz serving, at room temperature, with no outside influences to experience the whiskey as is. Whiskey neat (just room temperature whiskey in a glass) is considered by many to be the only “pure” way to drink a good whiskey. The concept is to taste the spirit as it was distilled, as the distiller had intended.
A 1oz serving, with a side of ice, to add as few or as many cubes as you wish. Adding ice to any whiskey will dull some of its more sharp edges. Many beginning whiskey drinkers prefer this route as it allows them to slowly be introduced to some of the harsher aspects of some extreme whiskies out there. As the ice melts it will water down your drink, well past the point of simply adding some water. If you like to drink ice-cold whiskey you can get around these issues by making your own ice from high-quality water and by keeping a dish and a small spoon next to your glass so you can remove the ice once the whiskey is watered to your liking.
A 1oz serving with a side of water. The best way to drink good whiskey is with some water. While people will claim adding water will open up the bouquet and a bunch of other random things, the real reason is more functional.
First, take a tiny sip of your whiskey neat. Chances are, especially if it’s cask strength, you will feel your taste buds buzzing as the liquid hits your tongue. This is the alcohol anesthetizing your taste buds. If you continue to drink the whiskey neat, you will eventually lose the ability to truly taste the drink; your tongue will grow numb.
You should add just a capful of water (only ever use clear distilled or spring water. Chlorine will ruin you drink). If after another small taste you still feel that “buzzing” add another capful. Repeat this until you have the minimum amount of water possible, without melting your tongue. Now you can enjoy the entire glass, tasting it truly through the last drop.