Whisk(e)y

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

– Mark Twain

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. Uisce beatha, or “water of life” in Gaelic, was created. How long ago? Sometime in the 14th century, if the internets can be trusted. With regards to the place, I exaggerate – this spirituous miracle transpired not in a distant galaxy, but somewhere in the beautiful rolling hillocks of the Emerald Isle. Whiskey (spelled without the “e” in Scotland, Canada and Japan) is distilled from a fermented mash of grain – typically corn, rye, barley, or wheat – and then aged to magnificence in oak barrels. Whiskey is proof that God exists and loves us.


RYE

My favourite spirit for mixing cocktails. The Powers That Be have mandated that rye be prepared using a mashbill that contains a minimum of 51% rye; however, the best ones – at least to my taste – contain upwards of 90% of this spicy grain. Rye must be distilled below 160 proof; aged in new, charred oak barrels at no greater than 125 proof for at least 2 years, and not bottled below 80 proof. Straight rye whiskey, or whiskey bottled-in-bond if you will, is required to be aged a minimum of 4 years, be produced by a single distillery in a single season, and be bottled at a glorious 100 proof.

Currently, my liquor cabinet holds the following rye whiskies.

The Liquor Cabinet:

  • High West Rendezvous Blended Straight Rye Whiskey
  • Knob Creek Small Batch Rye Whiskey
  • Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Rye Whisky
  • Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey
  • Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Proof

Given that Rittenhouse is released in such limited quantities north of the border, my supplies are sadly dwindling. A most disconcerting situation, indeed. I’ll have to make due with Knob Creek’s offering, as well as the excellent (and underrated) Lot No. 40 whiskey, produced by Corby Distilleries here in Canada.

The Wishlist:

  • WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey (which happens to be distilled with 100% Canadian rye grain)
  • Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye Whiskey
  • Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey

BOURBON

Ah yes – bourbon. Delicious… bourbon. Brownest of the brown liquors… so tempting. Although most bourbon hails from Kentucky, legally, bourbon can be made in any U.S. state. In order to be called Straight Bourbon, it must be distilled from a mashbill consisting of between 51% to 79% corn, distilled under 160 proof, aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years at no more than 125 proof, and diluted to no less than 80 proof. As many of you know,  Bourbon is named after the county of the same name in Kentucky, where, to the chagrin of the fine citizens that inhabit that place, sale of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited. I feel that Alanis Morissette could have sung about this unfortunate circumstance, if she had any idea what irony was.

Bourbons represent the most plentiful spirit in my liquor cabinet, as can be seen below:

The Liquor Cabinet:

  • 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Booker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Elijah Craig Kentucky Bourbon 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (bacon fat-infused)
  • Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon  Whiskey
  • Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey
  • Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon Whiskey

The Stagg Jr. is a recent addition to the liquor cabinet, whom I owe thanks to my wonderful, intelligent, beautiful (and enabling) wife. Also, Elmer T. Lee is a revelation: absolutely stupendous.

The Wishlist:

  • George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (obviously)
  • Any of the Pappy Van Winkles
  • W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight  Bourbon Whiskey
  • Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

IRISH

Irish Whiskey is distilled from a mashbill of corn, or malted/unmalted barley. I find the best ones are distilled in pot stills; however, they can be produced in either pot or column stills. The majority of Irish whiskey is made with a combination of pot- and column-distilled malt and grain whiskies. Single malts of the peated and unpeated varieties are also made from 100% malted barley. Pure pot-still whiskey (again, the best in my opinion) is made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley, which is blended before aging. Irish whiskey is aged a minimum of 3 years, typically in ex-bourbon or Sherry casks. Irish whiskey is best drunk while waxing poetically.

Sadly, only one Irish whiskey inhabits my cabinet.

The Liquor Cabinet:

  • Redbreast Pure Pot Still 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

I picked up a bottle of Writers Tears not too long ago for my brother-in-law, who was kind enough to share a dram (or two) with me – lovely stuff. I need it.

The Wishlist:

  • Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey

BLENDED & BLENDED MALT SCOTCH

I wasn’t aware of the differences between blended and blended malt scotch whisky until very recently. I suppose this was due, in no small part, to the fact that blended scotch is far and away the most popular whisky in the world and I, being a relative novice in the wonderful world of spirits, was ignorant to the blended malt category (or vatted malt, as it was once known). But no more! In the words of one of the world’s great orators:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… uh, you can’t get fooled again.”

I think you get the point. So blended scotch is between 60% and 70% column-distilled wheat or corn whisky and 30% to 40% single malt whisky. Blended malt whisky, on the other hand, is made by blending single malt whiskies from multiple distilleries.

The Liquor Cabinet:

  • The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
  • The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
  • Great King Street The Artist’s Blend Blended Scotch Whisky

As you can see, at the moment, I do not possess any blended malt whiskies. Which brings me to…

The Wishlist:

  • Compass Box Oak Cross Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Compass Box Asyla Blended Scotch Whisky
  • Té Bheag Nan Eiliean Gaelic Blended Scotch Whisky

SINGLE MALT SCOTCH

Single malts are made from 100% malted barley that is bottled from a single distillery, resulting in whisky styles that are unique to the region in which they are produced. As such, many of the self-professed connoisseurs and whisky cognoscenti, if I may borrow the term from Johanna Ngoh, turn their noses up in a unified sneer of disapproval with respect to blended scotch, citing that they lack a “sense of place”, the unique expression that only a single malt scotch can obtain.

But those with a seasoned palate, those with open minds say, “poppycock!” to such a claim. They say that a blended or blended malt can be just as rewarding and satisfying as a single malt!

I, dear Reader(s), am not one of these latter people that I speak of. No sir. Single malts are scrumtrulescent. Single malt scotch is so brilliant that any other word employed would be woefully insufficient, and would serve only to limit the sheer magnitude of its perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I love blended scotch. It’s just that there’s something lacking when compared to the utter magnificence of the single malts.

The Liquor Cabinet:

  • Aberlour 16 Years Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Ardbeg 10 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Glendronach 15 Years Revival Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Highland Park 18 Years Orkne Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Lagavulin 12 Years Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Laphroaig 10 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I’ll mix the Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10 into a cocktail, but not the others. I suppose one could compound a cocktail using the Glendronach or the Highland Park if one chose to take complete leave of their senses.

The Wishlist:

  • Ardbeg Ardbog Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Aberlour A’bunadh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’ 10 Years Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Glenfarclas 40 Years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (perhaps when I win the lottery)