Category Archives: Whisky

Review: Tasting Whiskey, by Lew Bryson

On the cover of Lew Bryson’s Tasting Whiskey, there’s a quote from the whiskey writer Charles Cowdery: “I shouldn’t say this is the only whiskey book you need, but it probably is.”

Mr. Cowdery’s reticence is understandable; he writes whiskey books, and he wants to maintain his comfortable lifestyle. I don’t know if I’d go so far as Cowdery. I’ve read some damn fine whiskey books in my years as a tippler, and I’d recommend them all.

Tasting_Whiskey

But I will say this much: this is the book you want and need if you’re just starting out in whiskey.

Bryson maps the major styles of whiskey, from bourbon to rye to Canadian, from Irish to Scotch to Japanese, and from craft to the various world whiskeys (that is, from growing markets such as India and Taiwan). He describes what sets the various styles apart from one another; so, for example, he details the grains that are in each style, the barrels it’s aged in, the climates and warehouses that hold it, and the length of time its aged.

Scotch, for example, is made primarily or exclusively from malted barley; it’s aged in used barrels (normally bourbon, but with some sherry and other wine casks tossed in for additional flavor); it ages in a cooler climate that enables longer aging; and it can age for up to 30 years or more without getting too woody.

Bourbon, conversely, is made primarily from corn, with other grains in the mix to add accent flavors; it ages in new oak barrels that impart more woodiness than do scotch’s used barrels; it ages in a warmer climate that ages it more rapidly than Scotland’s cooler climate; and therefore, it usually reaches its peak at roughly 10-12 years.

Each individual style is different, and Bryson masterfully explains how those differences affect the flavors of the finished product.

Every whiskey drinker starts somewhere. I started with bourbon and moved to scotch and then rye and on to other styles. When I started drinking scotch, I couldn’t begin to understand what made it unique until I started reading books that helped me puzzle it all out. Tasting Whiskey is such a book.

Its other strength is the infographics the book uses to illustrate some rather complicated concepts. I write about whiskey, and so I know that it’s not always easy to describe, in words, the effects of barrel aging, or how barrel placement in a warehouse affects how quickly or slowly the whiskey ages. These infographics, illustrated masterfully by Andrew Heath, demonstrate these concepts concisely and thoroughly.

49_cAndrewHeath_StorageLocation_TastingWhiskey 60_cAndrewHeath_EvolutionofFlavor_TastingWhiskey

Excerpted from Tasting Whiskey (c) Lew Bryson. Illustrations by (c) Andrew Heath. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

After describing the major styles, Bryson then provides advice on how to drink the stuff, in an enjoyable chapter on water, ice, and cocktails. Is it okay to drink your whiskey with a bit of water? Bryson tells you. On the rocks or neat? He has some answers for that as well. Cocktails? Of course! What I enjoyed about this chapter was how conversational and story-oriented it was. No recipes at all, just a description of how to make a damn good Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

I’ve met Bryson in person; we were in Kentucky together earlier this year for Jimmy Russell’s anniversary celebration at Wild Turkey. He impressed me with his approachable and avuncular temperament, and that personality shines through this book.

If you’re new to whiskey, and you need a friendly guide to the topic, Bryson’s book is for you. But if you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll still find this book to be enjoyable and useful. I learned quite a bit from it.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, and Lew Bryson is a personal friend of mine.

Ad of the week: Early Times

The whiskey that made Kentucky whiskies famous. Wait, that sounds familiar.

 

earlytimes

 

Life; February 7, 1938.

Early Times has a history dating back to 1860, when the first whiskey under this name was produced. Brown-Forman acquired it in 1923 and still owns the today. During Prohibition, BF marketed Early Times as a medicinal whiskey.

Today, the product is known as a “Kentucky whisky” (why they drop the e that’s traditional when describing American whiskeys is a question I can’t answer). It’s made the way bourbon is made, except that Early Times, today, is aged in used oak barrels. Straight bourbon, by law, must be aged in new oak barrels. New barrels impart more woody flavors into a distillate than do used barrels, and thus Early Times doesn’t taste as bourbony as bourbon should.

Early Times continued as a straight bourbon until the 1980s, and as of two years ago, a bourbon version is again marketed by Brown-Forman. The two products are now sold side-by-side; the bourbon is called Early Times 354.

Hundred Year Hooch in Man’s Attic

Century-Old Whiskey Bottles Found in Missouri Man’s Attic

To save money on the installation of central air-conditioning in his St. Joseph, Mo., home, Bryan Fite began replacing the wires in his attic, prying up the floor boards on the rafters. Along with possible savings, he found a treasure beneath the floorboards: 13 bottles of century-old whiskey.

[Warning: there’s an Auto-Play video at the link; very annoying]

PRODUCT REVIEW: Bastille 1789 French Whisky

I recently received a sample bottle of a new French whisky, Bastille 1789, from the Cognac region of France.

First thing I want to note is the producer’s preferred spelling: whisky. If you note there’s no e, that might give you a clue as to the style of whisky on offer. Bastille offers a blended whisky in a Scotch style. The whisky’s made of malted barley and wheat, and distilled in alembic pot stills; what sets it apart from blended Scotch is that Bastille is aged in Limousin oak, cherry, and acacia casks.

The color is light, in keeping with most blends. The flavor is malty, fruity, spicy, and lightly sweet; what I really enjoyed about it were the unique flavors from the cask. Body is medium.

Overall, I found Bastille pleasant to sip on its own at the end of a long day, caring for my son. My favorite cocktail use of whiskey these days is in Old Fashioneds, and there I don’t think I’d care for the Bastille. It’s a little too light to hold up to the hefty amount of bitters I like in an Old Fashioned, and it’s sweet enough on its own that it doesn’t need sugaring. Likewise, although the promotional literature recommended mixing it into a Manhattan, I can’t see it playing well with sweet vermouth. But I speak as a guy who prefers rye whiskey and rye-forward bourbons, to softer, wheatier whiskeys, so my prejudices may be showing.

If you, your friends, or your customers prefer softer tipples, you may be pleased with how it works in cocktails. For myself, I quite enjoyed just sipping it on ice, and also neat. As a sipping whisky, it may well find a steady home on my bar, for days I want something lighter than rye.

Bastille 1789 is currently available in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. It launches nationally in May. Suggested retail price is $29.99. 40% alcohol by volume.