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.
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…