My corn whisky: week 7

If you haven’t been following, I’m maturing my own whisky. The introduction to this project is here.

I thought I would post a quick update as my whisky keeps developing. The flavor keeps developing – but it is slower than I thought it would have been. Now, my whisky is drinkable – but it is still a far cry from having bourbon aromas and flavours. However, I am interested to see things transform.

nose: the barnyard aroma is shifting a bit (thankfully!), and there is lots of vanilla, oak (it’s light though), dried corn, and spice

taste: sweet corn, still quite intense, still a lot of raw oils from the new make. the rye spice does finish it off nicely.

finish: lots of nice vanilla

(to see the next post in this series, click here)

Review: Ballantine’s Aged 17 Years Blended Scotch Whisky

Bal 17 1

This whisky, a perpetual favourite of Jim Murray – winning a place in the top three whiskies in the world in The Whisky Bible pretty well every year, is one I had to try for that reason. Moreover, it is relatively affordable for a 17 year old bottling. Jim Murray’s high accolades initially drew me to the bottling, and I have certainly enjoyed each dram of it. The whisky was first blended in the 1930s, from a careful combination of malt and grain whiskies over scotland. Since then, it’s still on the market and is certainly great whisky.

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Fast Review: Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch

A picture of Ballantine's finest from the Ballantine's website

photo credit: Ballantine’s Website

Here is a review of one of the standard blended scotches available – Ballantine’s Blended Scotch. Blended scotches are certainly cheaper than single malts, and generally offer more consistency. Perhaps they are more ignored because they don’t change as much – what they offer is a standard, consistent product that one can rely on. Single malts are all the range, I think, partly because they are different – you can luck out and get a fantastic bottling, or luck out and spend big bucks on a dreadful bottling. The brands generally offer different things, in effect creating their own niches of products with dedicated followers.

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Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

IMG_0961Earlier this year, I had some time off and had the privilege of taking a trip to Kentucky. While I had hoped to be able to wind up with a bottle or two of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, one of the most sought after whisky releases in the world, I missed it by a week or so – but found, to my delight, a bottle of Parker’s Heritage Collection. Parker’s Heritage Collection is a highly regarded bourbon PHC11which is released once a year from Heaven Hill distillery. Each year, it is produced differently, but consistently is of very high quality. This year, Parker Beam, who has been a master distiller at Heaven Hill for decades, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and consequently the release this year is raising money for ALS research with 20 dollars from each bottle going toward the research.

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Review: Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky

Amrut Fusion 2This well respected malt comes from a distillery near Bangalore, India. It sits at a stunning 3000 ft. above sea level, and has produced malts that have left even the Scottish amazed. Amrut means the “drink of the Gods” and aptly describes some of what they produce.The location means for a different maturation process – they lose much more through evaporation to the surroundings than a distillery in Scotland (or most places, for that matter) and the heat causes more wood-spirit interaction enabling them to mature excellent spirits quite quickly.

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Do Open Bottles of Whisky Keep?

I have been told that one of the benefits of whisky is that it is supposed to keep very well once opened, and many of my friends and simple (perhaps not directly whisky related) online forums seem to suggest this.  However, I was interested to explore this after some of my own observations.

I recently had another go at a bottle of mine (century reserve lot 15-25), and noticed it wasn’t quite what I had remembered. I had noticed before with peaty scotch that the peat diminishes over time as the bottle remains open, but I wasn’t sure how things would go with rye and bourbon. As Century Reserve Lot 15-25 is a good quality and relatively cheap whisky I decided to purchase a new bottle and compare how the new bottle was to the old one.

I had bought the old bottle roughly one year ago, and had kept it open (although I had used wine preserver gas to try to keep it fresh). You can see the level at which it was kept below, where the old bottle, with a lower level of whisky, is shown beside the newer bottle with more whisky in it.CR 1525 5I conducted three blind tastings, with the two whiskies for comparison. Whiskies do vary from batch to batch, although most blends are made in such a way that the tasters cannot tell the difference between the old batch and the new one. Thus, I am assuming that the batches started with more or less the same flavour. Additionally, this is just one case for one whisky, and the results of this experiment may not be representative of all whiskies. However, it seems to confirm some of my hunches….

The link to my review of this whisky is here, and this describes the tasting notes of the newer (i.e. recently opened) bottling that I purchased.

The whiskies, of course, were very similar, but there were noticeable differences. Even at the first tasting I guessed correctly which was from the recently opened bottle and which was from the bottle that had sat opened for some time. At the two subsequent blind tastings, I also found that I could easily pick apart the “new” bottle from the “old”.

Here are differences, along with how I rated each of the whiskies so that a reference is put in place for a quantification of the effect of the air in the open bottle. For the sake of simplicity I will call the whisky from the newly opened bottle the “new” whisky, and the whisky from the old bottle the “open” whisky.

Nose: The open whisky is more fruit-forward, with more sour notes and the rye seems duller.

For the new whisky, the nose is sharper – there are sharper distinctions between the different parts of the nose, and the vanilla develops more prominently as the whisky sits. The rye is sharper, and features more prominently in the nose. It seems as if it is just a much clearer expression of what this whisky is trying to do. It’s a bit creamier, too.

open whisky score: 25.5/30 (85%)

new whisky score: 26.5/30 (88%)

Taste: The taste between the two was quite similar, but the mouthfeel, surprisingly enough, was different. The new whisky was thicker, and more mouth-filling. The rye in the new whisky was sharper, the taste was less sour, and the spice more firmly held its ground.

open whisky score: 25.5/30 (85%)

new whisky score: 26/30 (87%)

Finish: The finish was more clear cut in the new bottle, lasted longer, and was less bitter. From the open bottle, I found the rye flavour developed to a climax 6 seconds after I had swallowed it, and lasted for a good 40 seconds before it started to fade and become a touch bitter. For the new bottle, I found the climax of rye flavour occurred at 9 seconds and was still rye and spice heavy 30 seconds in, and didn’t fade until over a minute after I swallowed. The peaks were more prominent, more clearly defined, and the experience was longer for the new whisky.

open whisky score: 13/15 (87%)

new whisky score: 13.5/15 (90%)

Conclusion: I could tell which was which because I recognized the aging in a similar way as I would in wine – the oxygen from the open bottles appears to bring the fruit a bit more forward, dull out the edges of the whisky, and mellow it out a little. Unfortunately, the extra air in the open bottle appeared to accentuate the worse parts of this whisky for me and dampen the good bits. Upon each of my three blind tastings the results were quite similar.

open whisky conclusion score + overall score: 16.5/20 (83%);  85/100

new whisky conclusion score + overall score: 17.5/20 (88%); 88/100

As seen, in this case, it affected my own overall score by 3 percentage points. I could see how, perhaps with some whiskies, this extra exposure to oxygen may even be a bit of an advantage. However, my advice would be to try to limit the number of open bottles you have, where possible. Perhaps nursing a very special bottle over months or even years (there are probably some of you out there!) is not as good a strategy as just having one extraordinary whisky month or two. There’s some balance between this and having different open bottles for you and your friends to sample from together. Once I have a bottle dipping below the halfway mark, I think it’s good to concentrate on enjoying that before the oxygen takes too much away.

On a somewhat-related note, on the topic of storing whisky, if you are interested in knowing more, I recommend this link (from the entertaining Ralfy).

Review: Century Reserve Lot 15-25 Custom Blend Canadian Rye Whisky

CR 1525 1Century Reserve comes from Highwood distillers in Calgary, Alberta, who have been on a bit of a roll with new premium whiskies hitting the market such as this one, the Century Reserve 21 year old, the premium mixer White Owl,  and the recent Ninety Twenty Year Old (which I have yet to try, but eagerly await its arrival to Ontario). The whisky is composed of a blend of whiskies from a range of 15 to 25 years old. The barrels from which it is blended originated from Highwood’s purchase of stocks from Potters, a whisky broker, and some of the older stocks likely originated from an even older (and now closed) Seagram’s distillery in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. I can only imagine the blender tasting the range of stocks and dreaming what to produce…but certainly a great whisky was created! And for the price (30$ in Ontario), it is not only a fabulous price for the age, but also for the quality.

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