Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar V

“I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon."
Hugo LaFayette Black, Supreme Court Justice 1937 to 1971

I selected this quote because it made me smile, not because I in any way agree. I feel about Scotch Whisky and Kentucky Bourbon as I imagine parents feel about their children. You love them both in something approximating equal quantities, but in very different ways based on their unique characteristics.

I’d like to focus this post on the selection of the “right” whiskey of the American variety for your bar.

A brief sidebar on whiskey vs whisky. The derivation of the word comes from Scottish Gaelic uisgebeatha and Irish usquebaugh, both meaning “water of life.” The word in its current form comes to America from colonial times; American and Irish whiskey uses this spelling while Scottish and Canadian whiskies retain the older form, "whisky."

The standard, and probably the first whiskey tasted by many of us, is the obligatory Jack Daniels. There is no shame in having a bottle of this on the bar, and in some circles it’s more than merely acceptable, it’s a badge of honor. I’ve toured the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee and can assure you that they take the production of their product very seriously. If you and your guests would never consider imbibing whiskey without Coca Cola stick with good ‘ol Jack.

For those with more discriminating palettes and noses I might make a few suggestions. The first, though odd, has generally held true – purchase whiskeys whose names begin with the letter ‘B’. In order of my personal preference these are: Blantine’s, Booker’s, Basil Hayden, and Bulleit. The second is to avoid animals in the name or on the label (as is generally true for wine as well with a few notable exceptions); I am not generally a fan of: Buffalo Trace, the Wild Turkey line, or Eagle Rare. And finally read the labels, if they’re proud of the spirit they produce, and most are, they’ll tell you why it’s special whether it be single barrel, cask strength, a unique grain content, the barrel aging process, etc.

My personal preference, despite the aforementioned rules is 1792, with Blantine's a very close second by taste, but not by value.

For a bourbon tasting I would suggest ordering a glass neat with a cup of ice on the side at a good watering hole. Put 1-2 good sized cubes of ice in your glass and swirl it under your nose for a solid minute. If you are given a glass of terribly small, aerated ice, proceed to a nicer bar after downing the shot they just delivered. Once you’ve smelled, allowed a bit of the alcohol to evaporate (you broke some of the surface tension by adding the ice and by moving the spirit), and admired the color move on to the tasting. Take enough in your mouth to fully cover the front half of your palette. Let it sit there for a moment before allowing it to pass further back and down your throat. Take in a steady breath through a barely opened mouth and savor the finish. If you can pick out interesting flavors and aromas you have a worthwhile spirit, if not move on.

What are your favorite whisk(e)ys?



Easy and Elegant Life said...

Err. well, Wild Turkey 101 (which I drink on the rocks as it holds up well) and the Virginia Gentleman 90 proof which also stands up to ice. (Hmmm, fox hunt on the label. I'm not doing so well by your recommendations.)

Scotch? Single malts. Pretty much all of them. But Sprinkbank, Knockando, Highland Park are all favourites at my whisky bar. Neat, please.

Athenaeus said...

I agree that cask strength spirits are more desirable when served over rocks or (gasp) with water, though the uninitiated can quickly find themselves a drink ahead if they didn't peruse the label.

I think I'll have to agree to disagree on the Wild Turkey, but I haven't tried, much less seen, the Virginia Gentlemen 90 proof. Now I have something to go hunting for.

Pigtown-Design said...

Scarpa... it's not easy to find, but it's worth it.

Athenaeus said...

Pigtown Design, Scarpa passes the no animal names rule so I definitely have to give it a try.