Smoked Whisky – why not?

IMG_1570  I’ve always loved cooking, and the way flavors come together – but experimentation for me in food has largely been brought on from cocktails. Just a year ago, really, I was exposed to some of the art of cocktails through some pretty fantastic bars (notably Bar Chef in Toronto) – and was quickly mesmerized with all the unique and quick (usually…) pairings that can be created in a cocktail. All this to say – this has brought a lot more food experimentation in my life.

I have a great love for smoky, peaty whiskies – so earlier this year I had a thought – what if I smoked a whisky? The thought came to me as I was smoking some syrup for a cocktail in the fall, so I decided to give a single malt a go. My smoking operation is entirely crude – coals that I heat up on a camping stove, dumped into the oven with hickory wood chips and a healthy dose of ice, and of course a hoard of fans to try to keep the tendrils of smoke from enveloping my apartment.

I used one of the Stalk & Barrel Single Malt, produced out of Still Waters, a craft distillery in Toronto, that I had on hand. So I dumped the rest of my bottle of Cask 8 into a glass 9×13 pan in the oven, and left it in there for about 15 minutes, tasting at various points.

Before, as in my previous tasting notes, it was quite malty, fruity, and a bit grassy. Afterward I was quite shocked:

Nose: Very salty and sour, all brought in from the hickory. That I did not expect. Smoke dominates in a rich, woody way. The fruitiness and malt are hard now to find – instead, it appears, smoke and salt in bit quantities. The rich hickory-nature of the smoke is quite brilliant. But, oddly sour and not very well balanced – the hickory is front and center, but there isn’t much else other than wafts of fruitiness, vanilla, and some cedar-like woodiness. The fruitiness, almost in candy form, does come through in some brilliant rays but it requires some searching.

Taste: Rich, slightly bitter hickory smoke followed by some interesting vegetal notes. This seems more in line with mezcals than Scotches. It’s pleasant, and there isn’t anything that is negative. The complexity of the smoke is brilliant, but it does appear to have totally taken over on every level. Not in the same way as say, a peaty Islay Single Malt, where lots else is at play – but where really it is some alcoholic smoke with some other things present – if you look hard for them. All that said, this is quite enjoyable. It has swallowed up almost all of the distillery character.

Finish: The finish smolders on into ashy smoke, with a bit of tannic feel from the malt. A very pleasant aftertaste – but it’s quite simple. Some apple pokes its head above the surface from time to time, and even malt makes a little showing.

Conclusion: Reasonably enjoyable – but it is very much the creation of something entirely different, it seems, rather than adding to the Still Waters character. I love smoke, so I really can’t complain about it – but, if I were to grade this one, it wouldn’t score any higher than the original score – lower in fact.

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Mixing proportions of single malt together in sample bottles – I used a container with heated water in it to regulate warm temperatures for easier nosing of the samples.

I quickly realized that mixing in some cask strength Stalk & Barrel really helped with balancing and produced something much better. After a fair bit of experimentation, I mixed in about 200 ml of Stalk & Barrel Cask 11 into the approximate 500 ml I had of smoked whisky. Then I got something which is actually quite interesting – it still feels more smoke influenced than whisky influenced, but is no longer sour and the malt and spice now plays with the smoke rather than submitting to it. I now have a lightly sweet and smoky whisky which plays up key flavours of burning leaves, vanilla, dried apple, cedar and grassy malt. And, with water, it becomes surprisingly nutty. The subtlety of the whisky has been replaced by the complex subtlety of the hickory smoke – but it is an interesting one to sip on its own and is a whole lot of fun to mix. If you’re a cocktail lover on a beer budget, and want to mix some smoke into cocktails without busting the budget on mezcal or decent peaty whisky, give this a go…

A Different Sort of Review: Cooper’s Cask Coffee

IMG_1790 (Large)There are many whisk(e)y derived products, particularly food products those which utilize the barrels, often from bourbon, as part of their production –  from tabasco to wine. Recently, I received a sample from Cooper’s Cask (www.cooperscaskcoffee.com), a coffee company operating out of Rhode Island. The company sources green beans from Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia – a long established (exporting since 1711) coffee region known for coffees from the expensive, intriguing, and ethically questionable Kopi Luwok to pungent aged coffees from Java. Sumatra is the largest island in Indonesia and is known for earthy characteristics – chosen for this reason to complement flavours derived from the whisky casks.

The company spun out of the passion of Jason Maranhao and John Speights, and this particular product was inspired by some tea producers who were aging their product in wine casks. Their care for quality is quite evident in speaking with them, in the given information to their consumers like batch number and roast date (which I greatly appreciate as freshness is extremely vital to great coffee), and the fact that they only ship once a full batch has been ordered so everyone can get the freshest possible beans.

They source green beans, and age them in whiskey barrels for a period of 40-60 days, and then roast them after aging. Green beans have the capacity to retain flavors well on a level that is significantly longer than roasted beans, so aging them before roasting allows them to soak up flavor while not becoming stale. This particular coffee was aged in barrels from  Uprising Single Malt,which is a single malt made from a stout beer mash at Sons of Liberty in Rhode Island.  There are future releases which will be in different casks, including a bourbon and rum cask. To put this in the context of my other “whiskey coffee” experiences, this one is significantly different – the ones I have tried have been flavored after roasting or roasted before aging in a barrel, producing coffees I would not want to talk about.

I am no coffee expert, but I am not a novice either – I come from a family that has turned our BBQ into an excellent coffee roaster and I also select and roast green beans at home as time allows. This coffee is from batch 1, roasted on March 18 of this year – and shortly after reviewed by me, with the help of some coffee loving friends (all good things are worth sharing). The roast is medium (see above), which the folks over at Cooper’s Cask say is best for balance and the integration of the whiskey and coffee flavors. They recommend brewing in a French Press – this review is based on a number of French Press tastings and one Pour-Over Tasting. I tasted the coffee black.

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I didn’t do all my tastings this way, but coffee in snifters is quite the experience!

Nose (whole beans): I have never smelled coffee like this before – it has a bright and vivid tropical fruit characteristic much like papaya and dried mango, but it is creamy as well, somewhat like guanabana (soursop). I wasn’t even exposed to this fruit until I was trying to pin down some of these flavors with the help of some friends. I had another friend say she may not even know this was coffee if she smelled it blind – because of the strong fruity characteristic. It also smells sweet, with distinct sesame oil and earthy characteristics. In terms of whiskey, the only note I get which reminds me of whiskey is a light oily characteristic reminiscent of some whiskies.

Nose (after grind): After grinding, oaky and earthy characteristics really come out. The fruit is still there, but now doesn’t dominate as much. There is milk chocolate which plays off and balances the coffee bitterness as well, and some nuttiness comes into play. This now has much more of a coffee profile than the straight beans.

Nose (brewed coffee): Buttery, with the papaya and mango, honeydew melon, wet wood, wet earth, and some nutty characteristics. Interesting liqueur like aromas of amaretto and amarula play in as well.

Taste: In many ways, it follows the nose – tropical fruit, earthy, sesame, and a light vegetal note reminiscent of the rich flavor of green coffee beans. Medium level acidity. The finish is remarkable – after the movement of flavor in your mouth, buttery, oaky, and vanilla notes come through very reminiscent of whiskey. This is the only place on the palate where I really notice the whiskey, and it fits the rest of the profile very nicely. The flavor also lasts a long time, with light vanilla, papaya, and mango.

Conclusion: A complex, unique, and engaging coffee highly enjoyable by mind and palate. I have never had a coffee like this before – either in the vivid tropical fruit, which almost makes this coffee liqueur-like (though it’s not sweet, of course), or in the finish tacked on the end. This isn’t really a coffee I would drink on a regular morning – it’s much more an after dinner sipper, or a mid-morning post-brunch drink, where you can relax, appreciate, and be intrigued.

IMG_1785 (Large)I preferred this coffee in the French Press, as it did better justice to both the earthy and fruity flavors. In my last tasting, for the sake of curiosity, I also added cream – it makes the drink much more liqueur-like with the cream and fruit coming together nicely – but the complexity is almost completely lost and this coffee is wonderful on its own. It also pairs nicely with light desserts and nuts.

 

Fast Review: The Hive Aged 12 Years Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

An image from Wemyss: wemyssmalts.com

An image from Wemyss: wemyssmalts.com

This whisky, like some other Wemyss Blended Malts (The Spice King and Peat Chimney), is composed of 16 malt whiskies, with a focus on the Speyside region of Scotland. The whisky is made from refill and first-fill sherry casks.

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Fast Review: The Spice King 8 Years Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

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An image from Wemyss http://www.wemyssmalts.com/

Wemyss, based in Edinburgh, does a series of blended malt whiskies, The Spice King, The Hive, and The Peat Chimney along with their other products. This one, The Spice King, focuses on malts from the Highlands with an emphasis on spicy characteristics, and is made from 16 malts.

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Fast Review: Lord Elcho 15 Year Old Premium Blended Scotch Whisky

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An image from Wemyss Malts

Lord Elcho was a supporter to Bonnie Prince Charlie and was a leader in the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite uprising in 1745 – the result of an attempt of Prince Charlie to regain the throne for his family after pretending to be the son of James Stuart, though himself the son of James II. Because of Lord Elcho’s role in the uprising, he was stripped of his title and exiled to France. The whisky is produced by Wemyss Malts, who produce a number of blended Scotch whiskies and whose founder was a descendant of Lord Elcho. The company is still family owned and occupy the Wemyss castle (legend has it that it’s haunted) in Fife where they’ve lived since the 1300s. The whisky was launched in 2012, and last year a no-age-statement Lord Elcho was also released.

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Fast Review: Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

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An image from the Monkey Shoulder Website

Traditionally, and still performed in some distilleries, the barley germinates on a floor into malt. While it does so, it must be continually “turned” or shovelled over so that it doesn’t grow into a solid carpet of barley plants. “Monkey Shoulder” refers to a condition that some men picked up after long shifts turning the barley by hand, where the work caused one of their arms to hang down a bit like a monkey. It is a blend of three speyside single malts, Kininvie (rarely seen as a single malt), Balvenie, and Glenfiddich – all owned by William Grant and Sons. All of the whiskies going into this blend is matured in ex-bourbon casks, and each batch is made from 27 casks.

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