Glen Scotia Victoriana Review

The Thanksgiving season is always so much fun, but it’s also a time when it can be pretty darn hard to get anything done. Between travel, family visits, and extra work obligations, many things I want to work on can easily fall by the wayside. And recently, this poor blog has gotten a bit of neglect! But now I’m back, and quite thankful for the tasty drams I have lined up to review. Today I’m here to kick off December with one that’s brand new to me, and newly available stateside: Glen Scotia Victoriana.

victoriana-bottle

Until recently, the only Campbeltown Whiskies I had tried had been distilled by Springbank. I’d heard of Glen Scotia, but because of its lack of availability here, I’d never had the chance to try it. Now, thankfully, the Loch Lomond Group (the independent whisky brand that’s the parent company for Glen Scotia and quite a few other malts and blends) has brought this spirit Stateside, and I’ve had an opportunity to dive in.

Based on my prior experiences with Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn, I always figured I’d like Glen Scotia, because I’m such a fan of that sweet, funky, and briny Campbeltown profile. Glen Scotia Victoriana delivers in spades! This is a salty-sweet, fruity toffee bomb, and I really like it!

Victoriana is a cask-strength whisky, finished in “deep charred oak” (which makes me assume ex-bourbon casks), and that’s definitely evident from the spices that emerge on the nose and palate. Interestingly, Glen Scotia crafted this whisky to resemble the style of whisky popular in Victorian Britain. I’ll admit, I’m not too familiar whiskies from that era, so I can’t comment on historical accuracy. However, I certainly can comment on where it counts: this is a darn good whisky, bottled at cask-strength, and non-chill filtered. Presentation-wise, Glen Scotia nailed this one.

victoriana-tasting

Nose: I get a whiff of gentle smoke, coupled with sweet vanilla, and tangy lemon zest, and lots of toffee. There’s a bit of an alcohol prickle, but less than I expected, considering the high proof (51.5%). There’s also quite a bit of warm cinnamon and clove, mingled with milk chocolate.

With a bit of water, the alcohol dissipates immediately, as does the lemon. The smoke (probably evident due to the cask char, rather than peaty malt) becomes richer, mingling with more vanilla and milk chocolate, as well as some pipe tobacco and a bit of candied ginger.

Taste: The arrival is rich, viscous, and sweet! It’s packed with dark fruits like blackberry, plum, and ripe juicy cherries, and reminds me of a delicious fruit cobbler. The fruits break open toward the middle of the palate, blending bright, tangy-sweet fruit berry juice with a good dose of caramel and toffee. There’s also a pronounced, salty ribbon running through it, balancing out the sweetness and keeping it from getting cloying. It dries out a little toward the finish, with pickled lemon rind, more salt, and savory, earthy smoke and a hint of tobacco. The smoke lingers on the finish, which is long and bittersweet, bringing together some oak tannins, dark chocolate, and a bit of coffee.

A little water makes the arrival even more interesting. The dark fruits break up a little, joined by candied ginger, a bit more chocolate, and an added dose of vanilla. There are also more spices that emerge on the middle of the palate, particularly cinnamon and allspice. The saltiness is lessened, and the finish gets attenuated a bit, with less smoke and coffee. I think I like the finish a bit more neat, but a few drops of water does great things for the already tasty arrival and middle.

victoriana-adding-water

It’s a tough call (especially consider how easy this cask strength whisky is to sip neat!), but I think I have a slight preference for this with a little water. Or maybe I’ll just have a small glass each way – best of both worlds, right? 🙂

victoriana-chocolate-pairing

Oh, and I REALLY recommend a few bites of good chocolate with this dram. I went with a dark chocolate with sea salt and toffee, which really paralleled the flavors of this whisky quite nicely. In thinking about it, though, I’m tempted to try this one with some milk chocolate. Usually dark chocolate is my go-to whisky pairing, but I suspect milk chocolate might complement some of the sweeter notes in the dram. But what the heck, whatever you pair this dram with (even nothing at all), it’s going to be delicious.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried Glen Scotia? What’s your favorite whisk(e)y and chocolate pairing?

 

Disclosure: The Loch Lomond Group provided this whisky for my independent review free of charge, with no strings attached. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Amaro Montenegro Review

Amari pretty darn big right now, and I’m a huge fan. Bittersweet, rich, soothing. Just the thing to sip after dinner on a cool fall evening. However, not all Amari are created equal. In fact, if you try a bunch, there’s a huge variety of flavors out there; from the intense, bitter, and herbal to the rich and sweet, there’s a world of flavor to explore.

One I’ve particularly fallen for is Amaro Montenegro. Made with a blend of sweet, spicy, and bitter botanicals, Montenegro has a unique taste among its amari peers. It’s dark and packs a bitter punch, sure, but it lighter bodied than some others, and packs a unique, fresh orange flavor that cuts through the heavier notes and keeps it sippable. In fact, this bittersweet dram finishes clean, bright, and somehow even manages to be refreshing, despite being in such a dark, bittersweet spirit. Amaro Montenegro is like the gruff, brooding guy that really just wants to be your friend.

amaro-montenegro-neat-a-dram-good-drink

Tasting notes

Nose: Orange! Specifically, orange oil or essence, like what squirts out when you squeeze a piece of orange rind. This is followed up by rich, warm baking spices like cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. There’s some licorice in there too, along with a gentle hint of mint (far more subdued than what you’d find in Fernet Branca or Branca Menta, though). There are some light herbs in there as well – maybe some parsley and sage – but they’re soft.

Taste: Wow, this has a surprisingly bright flavor – something I don’t think I’ve experienced with other Amari. It’s also lighter-bodied than of its kin. The first notes that hit the tongue are the orange promised on the nose. There’s plenty of orange oil, but also a little sweet navel orange juice. This mingles with plenty of sweet, warm spices, with cinnamon and ginger being the dominant notes. These are joined by clove and cardamom toward the middle, as well as some soft, leafy herbs. There’s some bitterness in there toward the finish, but it comes across as a lingering orange tang, rather than a sharp bite.

I’m already someone who enjoys sipping amari, so I didn’t think twice about pouring a stiff glass of this neat, but Amaro Montenegro is balanced and gentle enough that I suspect even people who may not want to sip on other such spirits could enjoy this neat. I’m really looking forward to pouring myself a snifter of this to sip in my recliner on a snowy evening (Okay, do I officially sound like an old man now? 😉

Montenegro with a Twist - A Dram Good Drink

Amaro Montenegro is also quite refreshing to sip on the rocks with an orange twist, but it also works wonders in a range of cocktails, where it can have some surprising, exciting results. After some experimentation and brainstorming with the brilliant Alzuri at Spirit World, it’s my pleasure to present two Amaro Montenegro cocktails to help usher in fall. Both of these drinks play up the spiced orange flavor that readily comes through in Amaro Montenegro, which immediately makes me think of fall.

modified-paper-plane-a-dram-good-drink

The (Modified) Paper Plane

  • 1 oz High-rye bourbon
  • .5 oz Campari
  • .75 Amaro Montenegro
  • .75 Lemon juice
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until thoroughly chilled.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

This is a variation on the original paper plane cocktail, which calls for Aperol and a mellower bourbon (I believe the original recipe recommends Elijah Craig). However, with some adjustments to the ratios, I think the more astringent Campari plays nicely with the citrusy notes from the Montenegro. Those same orange notes also work really well the spicy flavor of rye, hence the bourbon swap, too.

taste-of-autumn-ingredients-a-dram-good-drink

Taste of Autumn

  •  1.5oz Dark Rum (A funky blackstrap rum like Gosling’s is ideal)
  • 1oz Amaro Montenegro
  • .5oz White Vermouth (I used Cocchi Americano)
  • A few dashes of black walnut bitters
  • Combine the ingredients in a large mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until well chilled.
  • Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

This drink is based on some experimentation that we did a few weeks back at Spirit World. The rum provides a nice rich space, reminiscent of what I’d find in spicy molasses cookies. The Amaro Montenegro of course contributes that rich, inviting spice, as well as its trademark bright orange flavor. Once again, this gives me that great taste of spiced orange that’s so prominent and inviting this time of year. The vermouth rounds things off in a pleasantly unexpected way. At first glance, a sweet vermouth seemed like a natural fit with this drink, but the heavy flavors and richer herbaceous notes in many sweet vermouths may have overpowered the relatively gentle Montenegro. Instead, a tart, vibrant white vermouth works well with the already bright notes from the amaro, while still adding a bit of extra herbal complexity. I’m quite happy with the end result on this one. I won’t be cocky enough to claim to have created this drink – I’m sure many people have already “invented” nearly the same cocktail – but I will happily keep making these throughout the season.

I’m looking forward to playing around with more cocktails with Amaro Montenegro – though it’s quite likely I’ll burn through the bulk of the bottle on my shelf just sipping it, pondering what I want to make with it next. 🙂

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite amaro? Have you tried Amaro Montenegro?

Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month

First of all, sorry for the massive lag between posts this month. Work has been keeping me busy, and time’s just gotten away from me. I should be settling into a routine now, and so the posting should be back on a more-or-less regular schedule.

With that out of the way – Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month! Although I didn’t ring in the month with a bourbon post, rest assured that I’ve been celebrating the occasion on my own time.

September is a time of transition, as summer gradually gives way to fall. This year though, most of September has clung to the “summer” side of things, with scalding temperatures and plenty of humidity.

Heat like that tends to sap my enjoyment of drinking most whiskies neat. Instead, I like to reach for a refreshing, thirst-quenching cocktail. I usually want something crisp, relatively light-bodied, and a bit tart to cool me off and re-energize me after a day of facing the heat. With this being National Bourbon Heritage Month, what better base spirit is there to feature than our own Brown Nectar?

When Nicole from Taylor Strategy sent me a recipe for The Anytimer, I thought would fit the bill perfectly. This cocktail is somewhat of a cross between a whiskey sour and an amaretto sour, with a bit of extra sweet-tart citrus for a refreshing finish. Of course, this being a bourbon cocktail, it’s crucial to choose the right spirit. In this case, the spice of a high-rye bourbon like Bulleit plays incredibly well with the sweet, earthy notes from the amaretto, and it helps to cut through some of the sweetness of the honey syrup and orange. Really, that marriage of rye spice and sweetness ties the whole drink together.

The Anytimer

I made a few tweaks from the original recipe to suit my tastes, but the base of this cocktail (as with most sours) is a drink that rewards experimentation. Try it out and see how you like it best!

IMG_2974

The Anytimer

  • 1.5 oz high-rye bourbon (Bulleit worked extremely well for me).
    • The original recipe called for 1.3 oz, but I upped the quantity a bit because hey, more bourbon.
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup
    • Combine equal parts honey and cool water in a shaker and shake until honey is fully dissolved (about 3o seconds or so)
    • The original recipe called for simple syrup, but I love the combo of honey and citrus. Plus, this could be whipped up in under a minute, without needed to start up a hot stove – a key consideration when it’s already sweltering.

In an ice-filled shaker, combine the orange juice, lemon juice, and honey syrup (Note that the middle beaker with the syrup only represents 1/3 of the total quantity. I didn’t have another measuring beaker large enough, so I filled it a few times).

Juice Pouring

Now wait a minute…aren’t I forgetting something? Right – the spirits!

Spirit Pouring

Pour in the amaretto and bourbon and shake vigorously, then strain into an ice-filled tumbler or other wide-mouthed glass. I strongly recommend double-straining to catch any pulp or ice chips that might interfere with the texture of this drink.

Garnish with an orange wheel (and a maraschino cherry, if you want and have them on hand) and serve. Repeat as needed to fight off the heat.

Anytimer Collage

After coming back inside from a long walk in the heat, this drink was unbelievably refreshing. The sweet and sour mix of orange and lemon arrives first, with the sweetness mellowed a bit by the honey. The sweet and spicy bourbon then rolls in and fills out the middle, creating a great bridge between the tangy citrus and the sweet, nutty amaretto. The rye spice cut through the sweetness, leaving a crisp, refreshing finish. This is a cocktail that doesn’t get old!

Question of the Day: What have you done so far to celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month?

Disclosure Statement: The recipe and whiskey used in this post were provided by Taylor Strategy. All thoughts and opinions are completely my own.

 

Summer Scotch Cocktails (Part 2)

Okay, so after buying the ingredients for my last cocktail post, I’m absolutely choking on dried hibiscus flowers. Not wanting to let these tart, delicious things to go to waste, I thought I’d try out another cocktail.

Truth be told, I’ve been drinking more cocktails than neat whisk(e)y over the past couple of weeks. The weather has really demanded something that can cut through the heat and humidity, and crisp, refreshing cocktails have been fitting the bill nicely. Hopefully you don’t mind a bit of a deviation from my normal review posts while I try to cool off!

That Scotch One Cocktail

This particular cocktail is based on a drink called “That Scotch One,” developed by Gareth Howells at Forrest Point in Brooklyn (Yes, just about all of their cocktails have great names). As with my last cocktail post, I’ve deviated from the original recipe in a few spots, but I was really pleased with how it came out.

This drink is rich and relatively sweet, but the sweetness is counterbalanced by plenty of refreshing tartness and a bit of a zesty, spicy kick. A word of warning though: The flavors blend together so nicely that you could easily forget that it’s alcoholic at all. As I said, it’s very refreshing for a hot day, and it goes down very easily, but be careful about drinking too many too quickly.

Ingredients

That Scotch One

  • 1 1/2 oz rich blended whisky (I used Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition, which has quickly become one of my favorite blended Scotches to sip or to mix. Look for a full review soon!)
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth (The recipe originally calls for Cocchi American, which I sadly didn’t have handy. I used Priorat Natur Vermut, which was new to me, but has a relatively similar semi-dry, tart, and herbal character).
  • 3/4 oz white peppercorn hibiscus honey syrup
    • Combine 1 cup of water, 1 cup of honey, 1 ounce of dried hibiscus flowers, and 1 tsp of white peppercorns in a small saucepan.
    • Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the honey is fully dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
    • Remove from heat and allow to cool, pour into a mason jar or swing top bottle (Once again, you can add a tablespoon of vodka to help keep it fresh for several months in the refrigerator).
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Cream soda (the recipe calls for Boylan’s, which is amazing…but not readily available near me. I relied on A&W, which although not as refined a product, brings back great childhood memories)
  • 1 fresh strawberry
  • Mint, for garnish

Preparing the Drink

  • Muddle the strawberry in the bottom of a chilled glass
  • Fill the glass halfway with ice cubes

Muddling

  • Pour the whisky, vermouth, hibiscus syrup, and lemon juice into an ice-filled shaker.
  • Add a couple of dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters.

Pouring Ingredients

  • Shake well and strain into the glass
  • Stir gently to mix in the muddled strawberry
  • Top with cream soda
  • Garnish with mint and serve

I’ll admit that the ingredients may not seem like things you’d typically mix with Scotch whisky, but it works extremely well, particularly with the rich, creamy flavors of the Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition (Side note, but would anyone be horrified if I just mixed a highball with that whisky and cream soda? The thought just struck me, and I think it could hit the spot).

This drink is definitely worth the effort to put together! It’s sweet, tart, a bit spicy, and thoroughly refreshing.Like the last cocktail I featured, this one is a great balance of flavors, and is just as refreshing on a 95 degree, humid day. I think I’ll need another one tomorrow!

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite blended Scotch?

Disclosure: The recipe and the whisky used in this post were provided by Mara Flynn with M Booth. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Summer Scotch Cocktails

It seems like Scotch whisky has a reputation as a cold weather drink (although whisky geeks like me enjoy it year round). When it comes to whisky cocktails, many of them seem to emphasize this. Most Scotch cocktails that I know tend to play up the rich, warming, and soothing qualities of the spirit, making them perfect for a cold winter day. However, there are plenty of refreshing Scotch cocktails that would be ideal for a hot summer day.

Since it’s been in the 90s just about all week, I figured it would be a great time to share one of those excellent thirst quenching cocktails.

Cocktail

This one is based on drink known as “Tigers Love Pepper,” drawing its name from an infamous scene in a particularly famous comedy. developed by Meaghan Montagano at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn, New York. It’s the type of swanky cocktail bar that I would love to check out sometime when I’m back visiting the Northeast.

This drink is floral, spicy, and tart, with just a bit of sweetness. I think these flavors are perfect for quenching my thirst and perking me up when the heat makes me start to wilt.

Tigers Love Pepper

  • 1 1/2 oz Smoky blended Scotch Whisky (The recipe calls for The Black Grouse, which works extremely well here!)
  • 1/2 oz Fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 oz Black pepper hibiscus cordial*
    • Combine 1 cup of water, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 ounce dried hibiscus flowers in a small saucepan (These flowers from Amazon worked great)
    • Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar is fully dissolved, then strain and cool
    • Add freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1 tbsp works great) and stir well to combine
    • Transfer to a swing top bottle or mason jar to store (You can add about a tablespoon of vodka, and the syrup will keep for up to three months in the fridge)
Tigers aren't the only cats that love pepper.

Tigers aren’t the only cats that love pepper.

Preparing the Drink

  • Pour the whisky, lime juice, and hibiscus cordial into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  • Shake well and then strain into a chilled coupe glass (I recommend double straining to eliminate any ice chips).
  • Garnish with a lime wheel

IMG_2033Pouring IngredientsPouringThe recipe I described here includes a few deviations from the original. The original recipe calls for shaking the whisky and lime juice and then straining it into a Collins glass filled with ice, then drizzling in the cordial. I tried it that way, and although I really liked it, I preferred the flavor and texture of all of the ingredients shaken together.

As for using a coupe glass instead of an ice-filled Collins, this meant I don’t have to worry about my drink getting diluted as the ice melts in hot weather. Plus, I just got these coupe glasses and I want any opportunity to use them…

However you prepare it, this in absolutely delicious and refreshing  hot weather cocktail. It’s all about balance – the tartness of the lime juice and hibiscus blend together amazingly, as do the spicy notes from the black pepper and the ginger beer.  A little sweetness mellows these stronger flavors, and the Scotch whisky ties everything together with a ribbon of earthy, smoky notes.

Tigers Love Pepper

Don’t be scared off by the somewhat exotic ingredients. This cocktail comes together really easily, and the recipe makes enough syrup for quite a few drinks (and trust me, it’s so good that you’re going to want to make several)!

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite Scotch whisky cocktail?

Disclosure: The recipe and the whisky used in this post were provided by Mara Flynn with M Booth. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Bulleit Whiskies and Cocktails (Part 2)

As I said in yesterday’s post, Bulleit Rye is a relative newcomer to the U.S. Whisk(e)y market, having first been released in 2011. As far as I can tell, the rationale behind its production was something along the lines of “people like the fact that our bourbon is high in rye, let’s give them even more of what they want!”

Unlike their bourbon (which is produced distilled at the Four Roses Distillery), Bulleit Rye is produced at MGP. Say what you will about the “Big Guy,” but that distillery in Indiana produces some phenomenal rye (In fact, they’re responsible for several of my all-time favorite ryes).

Bulleit Rye

I should also add that not all rye whiskies are created equal. Like bourbon, rye whiskey is made from a mash composed of multiple grains. In order to be classified as “straight rye,” the mash needs to be composed of at least 51% rye. Now, that’s certainly more rye than you’ll find in a bourbon, but it can go much higher, and more rye means more spiciness, more pungent aromatics, and an overall more assertive spirit. Bulleit Rye is made from a mash that is 95% rye, giving it a hefty blast of that rye goodness.

Nose: I get an initial burst of enticing baking spices, with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice leading the way. These aromas are quickly followed up by black pepper, mint, and a pronounced green apple aroma. A drop of water brings out more cinnamon and plenty of vanilla and caramel, though the pepper and spices remain front and center.

Taste: There’s a surprising amount of green apple on the arrival, complemented by the more typical rye spices and a bit of vanilla. This gives me the impression of an apple pie, though with a bit of oaky astringency and a peppery bite, it doesn’t ever get cloying. A drop of water brings the apple to the forefront and makes the mint more prominent, particularly on the finish, where it lingers on and on. A little more sweetness emerges as well, helping the vanilla notes intermingle with the spices.

I would certainly sip this rye neat or with just a splash of water, but its aggressive spiciness stands up really well in cocktails, even those with other strong flavors. It can hold its own against sweet, bitter, and herbal ingredients, where its spiciness adds lots of interesting notes on the palate. With that in mind, I decided to make a boulevardier with Bulleit Rye.

Boulevardier

The Boulevardier (Bulleit-vardier? No? Too cheesy?)

A boulevardier is, for all intents and purposes, a whiskey negroni. Since the negroni is one of my all time favorite summer cocktails, and I do love whiskey, it should be a match made in boozy heaven for me. And it can be, provided you use the right whiskey. With the bitter astringency of Campari and the sweet, herbal notes of the vermouth, a lot of whiskies will get lost, resulting in a sticky, cloyingly sweet drink. A good negroni  needs something that will punch through the viscosity of the vermouth and balance out the bitterness of Campari, while adding an edge all its own. In my book, that calls for the aggressive bite of a good rye.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Cocchi di Torino or other good sweet vermouth (And for goodness sake, please treat your vermouth with respect! Keep it refrigerated once it’s open, and don’t expect it to last forever. It’ll keep for a month or so in the refrigerator. Okay, PSA over).
  • Gin barrel aged orange bitters (Not traditional, and not required, but after playing around based on a recommendation, I really liked the extra orange kick. Plus, as a spinoff of the negroni, adding a slight gin note worked really well).

Boulevardier Ingredients

Recipe

  • Fill a mixing glass with ice
  • Add the Campari, the vermouth, and the rye
  • If desired, splash in a couple of dashes of the gin barrel aged orange bitters
  • Stir thoroughly, until the glass is cold to the touch and condensation is forming on the outside.
  • Strain into a chilled coupe glass or similar (I don’t have any, so I used a martini glass).
  • Garnish with a slice of orange zest (Just like with the old fashioned, try zesting the orange over the glass, and then running the zest around the rim).

Boulevardier Recipe

And that’s it! The boulevardier, like the negroni, is an extremely simple cocktail to make, and one that lets each the ingredients shine through. The backbone of the drink is herbal and bittersweet, with a hefty burst of rye spice throughout. Even though it’s nearly 90 degrees here, this one makes me think of the holidays. I’ll definitely be revisiting it in the Fall (and plenty of times before then, too).

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite cocktail to make with rye?

Disclosure: The sample bottles used in this post were provided by Taylor Strategy. All content and opinions are my own.

Bulleit Whiskies and Cocktails (Part 1)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I’m a fan of full-flavored whiskies. Although I typically drink them neat, I also love a good whisk(e)y-based cocktail. I received some samples of Bulleit whiskies, and I thought that their flavors would stand up nicely in some classic cocktails.

Bulleit Whiskies

The Bulleit brand of whiskies is relatively young, with their bourbon debuting in the U.S. in 1999, and the rye following even more recently in 2011. I’m quite partial to these whiskies, which tend to be quite affordably priced and offer a hefty dose of flavor.

Bulleit’s original product is a straight bourbon whiskey with a rather high proportion of rye in the mash bill (28% rye, for those of you keeping score).  The bourbon has a sweet backbone, balanced against a spicy kick from the rye.

Nose: Just from the nose, I can tell there’s plenty of rye in here. I get black pepper, allspice, and cloves up front, followed by some vanilla, and a dash of honey and some mildly astringent oak. A drop of water brings out some mild herbal notes, a bit of lemon zest, and something that reminds me of freshly laundered cotton.

Taste: There’s that rye again! The arrival is spicy and bold, with pepper, cloves and cardamom, as well as a bit of fresh mint. This is followed by a little vanilla sweetness and some cinnamon, capped off by a dry and lightly astringent finish, with the rye spices lingering on the back of the tongue. A dash of water softens the arrival, muting the spices long enough for more mint to come through. The finish becomes less astringent, with some more vanilla intermingling with the spices.

I find this bourbon perfectly enjoyable to sip on its own, but it also works really well in cocktails, particularly simple ones that let the rye spice come through. To highlight this, I decided to use Bulleit Bourbon in one of my favorite whiskey cocktails: The Old Fashioned.

Bulleit Old Fashioned

I’m a firm believer that you should drink whatever you like, however you like it. That said, the poor old fashioned must be one of the most criminally abused cocktails in existence (for another such cocktail, stop back shortly for my thoughts on the Manhattan).

What should be a simple, spirit-forward drink, mellowed with a small bit of sweetness with an aromatic accent is frequently served as a syrupy sweet abomination, full of mashed cherries, artificial syrups, and enough fruit wedges to make a decent size salad.

After several such traumatic experiences, it took quite a while before I realized what an old fashioned cocktail could be, and I gave them another chance. I’m glad I did, because when made well, this classic drink really highlights a good whiskey, while adding just enough sweetness and additional flavors to create a new experience. There are many old fashioned recipes out there, but I tend to find that the simpler ones tend to be the best.

The Old Fashioned

  • 2oz high-rye bourbon (Mellower whiskies tend to lead to an overly sweet and cloying cocktail. You could go all-in and use a straight rye instead, too)
  • 1 barspoon demerara sugar syrup (The classic approach is to muddle a sugar cube with bitters and a dash of water, but I like to start with a 1:1 simple syrup to both save a few seconds, and also ensure full incorporation of the sugar. Flavorwise, the end result will be the same)
  • Several dashes of Angostura bitters
  • A few drops of orange bitters (I think the extra orange notes play nicely with the spicy flavors in a rye-forward whiskey and the Angostura, without adding extra sweetness)
  • One large strip of orange zest, for garnish

Old Fashioned Ingredients

Notice the lack of fruit in the above picture? Plenty of old fashioned recipes call for muddling a cherry and piece of orange zest (or even (shudder) a whole orange slice) in the bottom of the glass. Now, if you like it that way, then by all means, drink it that way. But it’s not going to be a particularly interesting or well balanced cocktail.

All of the ingredients in this cocktail should intermingle with one another, adding complexity and interest, without any one part clashing or dominating.

Recipe

  •  In an old fashioned glass (or any heavy-bottomed tumbler), add a barspoon of demerara syrup, followed by a few dashes of Angostura and a couple drops of orange bitters
  • Pour in two ounces of bourbon
  • Add a couple of large ice cubes and stir until condensation starts to form on the sides of the glass
  • Garnish with a slice of orange zest (not a fruit salad). As a tip, Try slicing the orange zest over the glass, so that the volatile oils express into the drink. This adds a wonderful aromatic burst on the nose. For even more, run the zest around the rim of the glass before dropping it in.

Old Fashioned Recipe

If I could only ever have one whiskey cocktail (but please, no one ever do that to me), it would be an old fashioned. The balance of aromas and flavors is really something special. The subtle sweetness is balanced by the aromatic bitterness of the orange, and the Angostura and spicy bourbon complement one another extremely well. Sophisticated, but simple and approachable, a well-made old fashioned is pretty darn good.

Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on Bulleit Rye, as well as another classic cocktail feature!

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite whisk(e)y cocktail? Do you have a preferred old fashioned recipe?

Disclosure: The sample bottles used in this post were provided by Taylor Strategy. All content and opinions are my own.

Poor Man’s Pappy Review

Back in February, I wrote about the process of whipping up a batch of Poor Man’s Pappy. Since then, several of you have been sending me emails and tweets asking when I would finally post my thoughts on the blend. According to what I’d read online, the whiskies would take about six weeks to marry together.

Poor Man's Pappy

Well, it’s been closer to… eighteen weeks, so I suppose you’re well within your rights to bug me about it! I have a few good reasons for the delay, though:

  1. I’ve been tied up with other exciting spirits and events to cover (and I finally managed to find a good window!)
  2. I wanted to hold off until I could sample Pappy 15 as a comparison (which I finally did!)
  3. It just din’t seem quite ready when I tasted it at six weeks (Okay, that doesn’t explain waiting three times as long…)

Anyway, sorry for the delay! Hopefully you find this write-up worth the wait!

Rather than keeping you in suspense (I’ve done that long enough), I’ll get this out of the way up front: No, sadly, Poor Man’s Pappy (at least my batch) tastes nothing like Pappy Van Winkle. I get the slightest similarity in flavor on the finish, but that’s it. As much as the goal was to see if I could make a substitute for Pappy Van Winkle, considering just how dramatically different this turned out, I think it’s best to evaluate this blend on its own merits. Otherwise, disappointment is sure to follow.

Are you my Pappy?

Nose: The first impression I get is heavy cinnamon and some vanilla. There’s a bit of honey as well as some red apple. There is almost no alcohol evident on the nose. It’s a pleasant, if simple nose, but it doesn’t have the rich complexity I get from Pappy 15. The nose is also somehow distinct from both the Old Weller Antique 107 and the 12 Year Old; it’s less floral than the 107, and doesn’t seem to have as much butterscotch on the nose as the 12 Year Old. The cinnamon is more pronounced in my Poor Man’s Pappy, so if that’s your thing you may not mind this change.

Taste: It’s a bit hard to describe, but it tastes”fractured” at first. It’s like there are two different flavor profiles that aren’t quite meshing (probably because there are two distinct whiskies in there). Someone suggested transferring the spirit to a larger container and letting it sit for a while – maybe a bit of oxygenation would actually help the marrying process. In the meantime, the arrival is soft and smooth, almost candy sweet. It reminds me of red hot cinnamon candies, coupled with honey and baked apples. However, just as I’m settling in to savor those flavors, the sweetness disappears and is replaced by a rough bitterness on the middle of the palate. It reminds me of burnt walnuts, coupled with something herbal that isn’t unpleasant, but just doesn’t match the sweet arrival.

That roughness also surprised me because both of the base ingredients are really easy sippers. This is probably the blend’s the clearest deviation from Pappy Van Winkle, which is ridiculously smooth and easy drinking. When sipped neat, the finish is also quite short, burning away into those bitter walnuts and disappearing as fast as it arrives.

Pappy and his parents

Just like on the nose, Poor Man’s Pappy tastes quite different from either of its component spirits. It’s sweeter on the arrival than the 107, and has a peppery bite to it that that spirit doesn’t. It also seems a bit fruitier than the 12 Year Old is to me.

Adding water really helps the flavors to coalesce, and rounds off the  rough edge that I got on the arrival when I sipped it neat. After some experimentation, I found that I could add a substantial amount of water to this, and it kept improving. I actually added three full eyedroppers worth of water  to hit what I think is the sweet spot. For my usual tastes, that’s a ton of water!

Don't be of drowning this one!

Letting it sit in the glass to open up really helped, too. I recommend adding water and then covering it and letting it sit for at least fifteen minutes After that, even though it tastes completely different from Pappy, it’s pretty darn good as it’s own spirit. In fact, the longer I let it sit in the glass, and the more I sip at it, the more I like it. It’s actually quite a tasty whiskey!

Nose with Water: Wow, did this evolve! It’s sweeter now, but less cinnamon-spicy, and there’s a very nice floral note running through it. I also get a bit of orange, some clove, and green apple (not just the red I got neat). There’s also a bit of something that reminds me of buttered wheat toast,and a little black pepper. It’s still not the most complex nose, but there’s more to it, and the aromas are quite pleasant.

Taste with Water: There we go! The arrival is still sweet, but less cloyingly slow. More importantly, it now rolls right into a spicy and mildly bitter burst of flavor, rather than leading to a clash in the middle of the tongue. The initial tastes are cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and strawberry jam. These lead into toasted pecans and walnuts, a bit of orange zest, and butterscotch. The finish a nice dry counterpoint to the sweet arrival, and it’s  longer now as well, with cinnamon, walnuts, and green apple lingering for a reasonably long time. 

Overall, even though this blend doesn’t remotely resemble Pappy Van Winkle 15 (or any Pappy that I’ve tried), it’s a solid whiskey in its own right. With a little water and time in the glass, some fun aromas and flavors come out. It may not have been what I was going for (and the results may not be what you were hoping to hear), but I’m glad I tried this little experiment, and I know I’ll enjoy the rest of the bottle!

Questions of the Day: Have you tried (or made your own) Poor Man’s Pappy? How was it? Do you have any suggestions for tweaking the recipe?

 

 

Poor Man’s Pappy

I’ve talked about Pappy Van Winkle on here before. If you’re a bourbon fan at all, you’re probably familiar with this legendary spirit. Unfortunately, unless you’re a wealthy (or very lucky) bourbon fan, there’s a very good chance you’ll never manage to get your hands on a bottle of Pappy. For many people who might want to taste this mythical flavor, your best bet might be to…get creative.

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting any sort of illegal action here! Instead, I’m going to test out the idea that you can approximate the taste of Pappy Van Winkle by a little bit of spirit alchemy – that is, by blending a couple of far more affordable bourbons. How the heck can this work? Well, explaining that requires a quick history lesson.

Pappy 23 Label

Julian Van Winkle, Sr. – The man on the label.
Image Source: www.oldripvanwinkle.com

The famous Pappy Van Winkle bourbon was originally distilled at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery under the auspices of Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, until he died at the age of 91, passing the brand on to his son, Julian Jr. In 1972, shareholders forced Julian Jr. to sell the distillery and its related brands. To keep up his livelihood, Julian Jr. began selling leftover stocks of whisky under the brand name Old Rip Van Winkle (a pre-prohibition brand he still held the rights to).

Julian Van Winkle III Image Source: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Julian Van Winkle III
Image Source: Buffalo Trace Distillery

In 1981, Julian Jr.’s son, Julian III, took over the family business and continued bottling and selling the increasingly diminishing stocks of whisky he still held. Up to this point, they were selling off their existing stocks, which would eventually be depleted. However, in order to keep the business going, new bourbon would need to be produced. In 2002, the Van Winkle family made the dramatic, but practical, decision to partner with the Buffalo Trace distillery to produce fresh spirit on the Buffalo Trace stills. Initially, the spirit produced at this distillery was blended with the Stitzel-Weller stock to stretch out its availability, but over time, that old supply ran dry. Today, only the oldest (23 Year Old) Pappy Van Winkle contains any Stitzel-Weller juice at all. All of the rest is distilled purely at Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace produces a lot of great bourbons, including the W. L. Weller line of wheated bourbons. If you’re not familiar, a wheated bourbon replaces some or all of the rye in the mash bill with wheat, resulting in a sweeter, smoother, and more mellow spirit, with its own unique flavors. This distinguishing factor of the Weller bourbons is important to our discussion because – drum roll, please – Pappy Van Winkle is also a wheated bourbon!

The closest I can get to Pappy Van Winkle

In fact, it’s been suggested that Weller the Buffalo-Trace produced Pappy share the same wheat-based mash bill! This means that these two bourbons don’t just share some similarities, they’re in fact kin! Now, before you get too excited, I’m not suggesting that these two bourbons are the same. A side-by-side comparison will certainly reveal obvious differences, with Pappy coming across smoother, richer, and with an overall more refined character. This is largely a product of the aging and blending process.

The casks used in the production of Pappy are supposed to be the best of the best out of Buffalo Trace’s wheated stock. They are aged in a special portion of the warehouse, and are carefully blended to achieve the right balance of flavors.

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Image Source: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Warehouse
Image Source: Buffalo Trace Distillery

That said, the Weller bourbons are themselves delicious and intriguing spirits. Essentially, they’re very close in origin to Pappy, just without the same pedigree and level of refinement. However, by careful blending, it’s suggested that you can created a sort of “Poor Man’s Pappy,” a whiskey that approximates the aromas and flavor the fifteen year old expression of Pappy Van Winkle.

Enter: Our primary components. First, the Old Weller Antique bourbon is a 107 proof beast of a whiskey. It’s bold, sweet, and buttery, with a lot of enticing flavors. However, it’s also quite young (around 6-ish years old), high octane, and a bit rough around the edges.

Old Weller Antique

Old Weller Antique 107 Proof Bourbon

Contrast this with the second part of our equation, the W. L. Weller 12 Year Old. This bourbon has had more time to mellow, delivering richer, leather and candied orange flavors.

 

W. L. Weller 12

W. L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon

The idea is that these two whiskies, when mixed in the right proportions, will complement each other sufficiently to produce an amalgamation that’s pretty similar to the 15 Year Old Pappy. I was first alerted to this idea by the fine folks at Spirit World, and thanks to Bourbonr.com, I decided to try this out myself. Feel free to follow along if you want to try this experiment for yourself!

I started with a bottle each of the Old Weller Antique and the W. L. Weller 12, as well as a clean empty bottle (Thanks for your sacrifice, Trader Joe’s Highland Single Malt…).

Mad Science

I zeroed my kitchen scale with an empty bottle of whiskey, then figured the weight of a full bottle of Weller and poured 40% of my bottle of W. L. Weller 12 into a measuring cup.

Pouring Whiskey

To this I added 60% of my bottle of the Old Weller Antique, swirled them around a bit, and funneled the mixture into a freshly cleaned bottle.

Filling the bottle

Filling the bottle. Yes, my Christmas cards were still on display at the time. What? It’s still winter…

Then came the hardest part: I corked up the bottle and waited. And waited. I’m still waiting, and I’ll keep on waiting for quite a bit longer. Apparently, the mixture takes time to “marry,” and will achieve peak “Pappy-ness” after about six weeks. It’s been six days now, so I’ll check back in about five more weeks to see where we stand! It’ll be a tough wait, but thankfully I have a few other drams to keep me occupied in the meantime!

Poor Man's Pappy

The finished product!

Once it’s ready, I’ll be posting my full impressions here. Unfortunately (unless I experience a drastically lucky turn of events), I won’t be able to do a side-by-side comparison to Pappy Van Winkle 15. Instead, I’ll have to rely on my memories and some tasting notes to see if this comes close. Personally, I’ll be happy if it just turns out to be a distinctive, delicious bourbon!

Until then, cheers!

Questions of the Day: Have you ever done any “science experiments” with whisk(e)y? How did they turn out?