Home 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.

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My rye: Out of the barrel and into the glass!

IMG_1390 (Large)On April 16, I took out my rye from the barrel (if you haven’t followed this story, please see here) – it kept getting better, but it was getting pretty good and I didn’t want to lose too much to evaporation. 430 mls came out at 59%, which was a marked improvement from the 44% (590 mls) that went into the barrel. So, all in all, it spent 2 weeks in a medium char new white American oak cask, and an additional 6 weeks and 2 days in a “bourbon” cask. This is quite a bit less than the 21 years that my “bourbon“/corn whisky spent in the barrel, but there is much more grip and oak on this rye than the other one. Also, the evaporation rate was faster (I did, in fact, move houses during this time), coming to roughly 7.5% per week (compared to 6.5% for the last one). However, these figures are pretty rough.So how did it taste? A lot better than my last one, I think. Here are some tasting notes, along with notes on how the flavour developed. I also rated it, as I would other whiskies (with as little bias as possible).

Nose: Still a touch harsh, with some (beautiful) caramel, a touch of smoke, green tea leaves, a bit creamy, the caramel and brown sugar is quite nice – almost like good, dark maple syrup. Oak is definitely there…still has slightly green rye character throughout, and the black tea, both from the new make- but they very much sit in the background now. A slight mustiness is there, with stewed apricot, and canned peaches. There are a few harsh elements at first…these calm down as it sits. This would be a bit higher if it were not so volatile on the nose (a little like the Stalk and Barrel 1+11 Blend). Much of the off-notes present at 2 weeks were removed over the course of the time in the cask. 25.5/30

Taste: Compared to the previous weeks – more viscous, fuller, bolder, sweeter – with lots more oak (but not too much – nicely balanced). It’s dry and spicy with vanilla, and is reasonably oily, with some manuka honey, hot white pepper – there’s lots going on, it’s complex, and very good. The rye backdrop is still there, too. The bite of spice at the end is great and grows as you sip it. 26/30

Finish: Quite a nice finish! Spicy and sweet! And cleansing, with hot white pepper, vanilla, and lighter honey – not the manuka I found earlier – more like lighter wildflower honey. So spicy! especially as you drink more…I love this as a spice lover. 12.5/15

Conclusion: Much better than my bourbon, I have to say. I quite enjoy this, though it is quite a bit different from most flavour profiles I come across – but this one is very enjoyable. It’s very good…my last cask product I would like to share with friends, but would have to “qualify” it by saying it is my own cask-aged product, and my first one. This one, however, would need no such qualification…17.5/20

Overall: 81.5/95 = 86/100

This is quite a bit better than the 76 I gave to my corn whisky.

So, that’s a job well done! Now I have to find a use for my cask, and see what I can get out of it. Some experiments now with Glen Breton, but, after that, I am contemplating experimenting with a barrel-aged gin.

And Out of the Barrel It Comes

This post pertains to the corn whisky I am maturing in my own cask, which has previously been discussed here.

So not too long ago I started taking my biweekly sample from my cask and I opened the spout to find no whisky coming out. Slowly it began to dawn on me that perhaps the fast evaporation out of the small 1 litre cask has taken it’s toll…and a quick shake of the barrel confirmed my fears. I drained the barrel, and found this:


Not a whole lot was left (105 mls) after the 750 mls I put in there initially, so I decided to take it out as it had matured reasonably though I would have liked to leave it in a bit longer. This means that, assuming roughly 75 mls of sample were taken, and none remained in the wood (as it was a fresh cask full of rye whisky beforehand), roughly 565 mls evaporated through the wood – this is about 75% of the spirit I put into the barrel! This translates to about 6.5% per week evaporation rate. What they say about high evaporation rates of small barrels is very true – it is very high.

However – what beautiful colour. So, I took it out on March 3, and as it was put in October 8, it spent about 21 weeks in the barrel – significantly more than the 4-6 weeks recommended. However – this was the shocker. I used my hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. Generally, ABV will decrease in the barrel through evaporation in humid environments, and increase in dry environments. Over the winter, it’s been fairly dry so I expected this to go up. I calibrated my hydrometer to some vodka and had my temperature ready for adjustments…and checked the ABV of my whisky. I saw it drop, past 40, 50, and 60 until it finally settled at around 75%. I was shocked. In my excitement I ran to get my housemate to show off the proof of my creation, when we both noticed the hydrometer sat at the bottom of the measuring tube. This means, of course, that the ABV was even higher. When I added more of my whisky, I found the hydrometer continue to drop – all the way to 86%! 86%! That’s 172 proof! No wonder it burned so much in the samples. It’s drinkable, but I think better diluted.

So, today I took out my samples I’d saved over the course of the project and tasted them. I have samples from the new make, week 10, week 15, and week 21 as shown below:

IMG_1348My tasting notes follow:

New Make: quite oily, with yeast, lots of corn, cornmeal, and a bit of a barnyard aroma with some water. The taste is thick, sour, creamy and oily with some spicy rye kick. Some anise seed is present as well, and there’s almost a bit of riesling minerality present as well. There’s a touch of lemon as well.

Week 10: It came a long way! there’s lot of maple on the nose, and the distinct oiliness is still there, along with the anise seed and there’s some black pepper and vanilla as well. It’s sweeter on the taste, and is quite mouth-filling and sharp, with a hard rye finish and a bit of bitterness. It’s not as sour or barnyard-y as the new make. The finish is sharp, with some tingling spice and coconut and is quite long with just a touch of oak. Much more pleasant than the new make, but still quite a bit raw.

Week 15: At this point, it almost seems a bit less mature than above! There are some new stewed fruits which appear, as well as some caramel, but it’s harsh and a bit bitter. It’s sweeter, hotter, and sharper on the taste and still quite raw I think. The finish is a bit lighter than before with black pepper and is a bit tangy.

Week 21 (final): It came very far in the final 6 weeks! It’s creamy and rich, with lots of vanilla, tapioca, coconut, dried apricot, vanilla pudding – yet it still does not really resemble bourbon. It’s quite the burner on the taste before some water is added! It’s sweet and thick with maple, vanilla, lemon, dried apricot, and a bit of spice on the finish. And, as before, it’s quite tangy. The finish has lots of coconut, vanilla, and tangy prunes. It’s mouth-filling and has some cacao as well. Overall, its’ ok – not too incredible. It’s certainly enjoyable, but in rating this whisky, relative to my other ratings, it comes out to roughly 76/100. So…I’ll enjoy it, but it hasn’t convinced me that you can produce fabulous results at home, though good ones, for sure, are possible. Perhaps I’ll have to get another cask and see….

So now my rye has gone back in, and we’ll wait on that one….it had already been in the new cask for two weeks, and there is 590 mls going in, sitting at roughly 44% ABV when it went in.

My corn whisky: Week 15

My corn whisky has now been in the barrel for 15 weeks, and it is still quite raw, but is starting to develop and take shape in some of the direction I thought it might. I am taking smaller and smaller samples so as not to drink it all up before it is done! So I sample every 2 weeks or so now, and often just a good nose is enough to know where it is. However, I can see this staying in the cask for some time yet.

nose: still quite yeasty, and heavy on dried corn  and vanilla; it’s a touch creamy, and some other flavours are starting to develop –  a touch of fresh apricot and a bit of a stewed fruits character is beginning. It’s a bit sour and has an aroma reminiscent of hay as well, but is certainly starting to be quite interesting. The apricot is certainly starting to come out.

taste: warm, with big fruit chocolate overtones and a wave of heat as the spices settle in – cinnamon largely. It still tastes much more like the new make than bourbon but in the middle there is a wave of flavour of the bourbon profile, so it is starting to look like it may actually develop a bit of that flavour profile. the profile quite has the flavour of hard taco shells.

finish: long, with corn, vanilla, and light oak; the tannins come on lightly at the end and dry out the mouth.

It’s interesting, I wouldn’t call it fantastic stuff but it is not bad for sure. It’s certainly still improving…

If you haven’t been following, and are interested in seeing earlier related posts, click here.

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

My Corn Whisky: Week 10

If you are interested in the earlier posts of this whisky maturation, click here.

As we’ve hit week 10 with my corn whisky in the barrel, I thought I’d spare a slightly larger sample. Usually my samples run around a ml or two every week, but I took 5-8 this week. It’s coming along! However, I still think there’s lots to go. Here are the tacorn week 10sting notes:

Colour: definitely gaining some colour as you can see in the picture to the right.

Nose: It’s still quite raw and aggressive; with lots of vanilla notes and some dried berries; it smells quite sweet – but the aromas are quite floral – the sweetness is more like nectar than honey. The barnyard aroma I detected earlier is done, which is nice, and there are some lovely light blossom-like citrus flavours. It still smells quite oily and there is lots of dried corn dominating the nose along with the vanilla. As for balance, the corn dominates too much and the other interesting floral and citrus aromas lift the whole nose up but they lurk too quietly in the background.

Taste: it’s thick and oily (although not as much as was present in the new make) and fairly sweet, with an alcohol explosion mid-palate (i.e. lots of alcohol without much flavour attached). There is vanilla, icing sugar, and a bit of citrus – orange and lemon peel. Really, it seems a 2 stage taste – there is some heavy dried corn at the beginning followed by vanilla with those light citrus notes. At the end there are spices as your mouth dries out with a bit of tannin and cayenne pepper.

Finish: Light corn, then vanilla and grapefruit. Quite intriguing. Eventually left with dry oak.

It is developing, and has some interesting parts developing – but it has a far way to go, and much more could be done for balance. In the barrel it remains! the 4-6 weeks that was recommended for time in the barrel seems an underestimation, for sure.

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

Review: Cream Liqueurs

A white board for our results!

A white board for our results!

I thought as we are in holiday swing now that I would do something a bit different in terms of reviews. For as long as I can remember, my aunts and uncles always have plenty of Baileys around at Christmas, both for having on the rocks and in coffee.

While visiting Forty Creek distillery earlier this fall, I had a chance to try their cream liquor and I was very impressed. Bailey’s is a longstanding favorite of mine, and hadn’t evenimages considered that something else would come in better than it – it was always just the fabulous standard for cream whisky. So, noticing also Sortilege maple cream in the liquor store, I had a few friends over for a cream liquor taste-off. The lineup for tasting included the original Bailey’s, caramel Bailey’s, Sortilege Maple Cream, and Forty Creek Cream.

To spice things up a bit, I submitted two of my own recipes as well. I made two kinds, with a cream base from this recipe. Really, it was quite simple, as my base was simply whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, and eggs. I divided my batter in two, and made a rum, chocolate, and mint liqueur by adding melted chocolate, sailor jerry rum, and mint extract (i.e., drained rum that was soaking with crushed mint leaves all night). I don’t remember quantities, as I added bit by bit as I blended and tasted. The result was as you might expect – a rich, creamy, chocolate and mint concoction with a touch of rum flavour as well. The guests loved this! To the other half of the cream I added amaretto, vanilla (from vanilla beans and vodka), and bourbon (Eagle Rare 10 year old). The result of this was surprising, and very complex and different. The almond and vanilla set a base for some rich oakiness from the bourbon. I really liked this one. The only critique I got from this was a lack of alcohol kick and a bit too much sweetness (all from the sweetened condensed milk!). Surprisingly enough, my concoctions stood up pretty well against their (more expensive) branded counterparts.
There were 7 of us, and we all rated the liqueurs out of ten (i.e. 70 total marks). The results, in order of total average score:

Forty Creek: 55.5 (85%)  cream-big1

Mint Chocolate Rum Cream: 55.5 (79%)

Almond Vanilla Bourbon Cream: 54 (77%)

Sortilege Maple Cream: 49 (70%)

Bailey’s Original, Bailey’s Caramel: 47 (67%)

It’s a harsh lot of graders because despite the low marks they all taste pretty fantastic in my book! Forty Creek clearly won, and was the highest mark of 5 graders (tie for best mark for one). 2 of the group liked the rum/mint/chocolate the most, and 2 liked the almond vanilla bourbon the most (tie for best mark for one). The original baileys maforty creek creamy have been the least well received as it received the lowest mark from 4 of my friends.
So there we go! My fellow Canadians, why not pick up a bottle of Forty Creek cream instead of Bailey’s or your other default cream? It is wonderful, without as much alcohol bitterness and with chocolate, coffee, and caramel. I (and my 6 other judges) highly recommend it! And, it would appear, there are fellow bloggers who agree.
I was surprised that my own concoctions held up, to be honest. Interestingly enough (or, perhaps, obviously), on ice cream my rum/chocolate/mint cream had no competition. It was fantastic. By the time we got around to judging in coffee and on ice cream, we stopped our serious judging and didn’t come up with results as we had far too much sugar. However, I would modify the recipe. I would use condensed milk (unsweetened), instead, and add maple syrup to sweeten where necessary. That should help it becoming too sweet. Additionally, in the future, I will probably experiment a bit with other options for thickening the cream, as the flavor of condensed milk in a cream-based drink is a bit too dominant. I will tinker more…and in the meantime, making your own cream is also something I recommend! Happy Holidays.

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)