Rational Spirits – Santería Rum (46%)

santeria_rumWait, what the hell is this?!? Rum??? I thought this was How to Drink Whisky?! What’s next? How to Drink Mezcal? How to Drink Vodka? How to Drink Shit Mixed with Redbull? Well okay, How to Drink Mezcal sounds pretty awesome. I definitely wish I paid better attention in Spanish class so I could pursue it. Que lastima! Maybe it’s not too late to learn.

To summarize a hundred bloggers who wrote about this before me last year, in 2015 Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits fame announced that he was waiting for a patent. Studying a 20 year old rum, he claimed to have made a machine that could take a spirit, fresh off the still, and combine it with oak in a way that would create a cocktail of chemicals with a similar composition to the older spirit.

Every serious whisky drinker anywhere collectively rolled their eyes at the announcement. We’ve all heard that story a hundred times. Sure you can change that spirit dramatically by boiling it in a pressure cooker, spiking it with sawdust, or shaking it violently, but it will always taste at least a little but like mulched goat piss… and those sad, New York hipsters will love it just the same.

I’ll admit, I was as jaded and skeptical as the rest. At first, I secretly hoped it wasn’t true, that whisky-arsonist and friend of the blog Davis hadn’t just committed the ultimate whisky maker’s faux pas. Now he’s got a waiting list of spirits companies in line to lease his machine. The first to sign up, Rational Spirits, just released their flagship rum, Santería. Looks (and tastes) like success to me.

Discussing it with Davis, he’s clear that he’s not selling a machine. It’s more like he’s selling a mad scientist starter kit with warranty and consultation with an actual mad scientist… and there are good reasons why he has a waiting list now. Analog maturation’s main drawbacks are that it takes lots of time and then there’s usually a high degree of variability in each individual cask. Davis’ digital setup makes the best effort yet to control that variability and make a product extremely uniform on a much faster pace. The implications for the spirits business are exciting… and certainly a bit terrifying.

Jeffeesons Aged at Pug Small Batch

It’s not a box you pour liquor into, press a button and after a period of time it spits out 20 year old brandy. At the same time, this specificity seems to be one of it’s most desirable assets; with Davis’ reactor, the product will be exactly what you craft it to be, and once you set it up, it will produce consistent results over and over. You like that honey barrel you found by the rickhouse window? Analyze it in the spectrometer and imitate it. If you know what you want in a whisky and can provide a sample for analysis, you can probably make it.

In the end none of this written chatter really means anything if the product doesn’t taste real. I was expecting an uncanny valley of sorts, where the spirit would be close to old rum but something wouldn’t seem quite right in an almost imperceptible way. Not the case. Santería is undeniably delicious. For $36 a bottle, too? Get the fuck out!!! Now, I can afford to drink mai tais all night long! Does it taste exactly like the 20 year old rum they tried to imitate? I can’t say, but it’s damn tasty and if you told me blind that it was an honest 20 year old, I would believe it.

So how does his machine work? Well, there are a few different processes that happen in different parts of the setup. Once you have a snapshot of your target spirit’s profile, your own spirit as it came off the still, and snapshots of all the components, you juggle these four processes, analyzing it along the way to create the final spirit.

I won’t bore you with too many details but one process holds wood suspended in spirit at a precise temperature which seems to extract a catalyst from the oak. The spirit is held at other temperatures which are tuned in to expedite reactions between the various carboxylic acids, phenolic acids and alcohols created or extracted in the other processes, speeding up the creation of precious, targeted esters that typically take long periods of time to form. Another process utilizes photocatalytic science. Pondering the way the sun was breaking down the surface of his deck, Bryan realized wood degrades in sunlight and unleashes a lot of the same components unleashed when wood breaks down in alcohol, most importantly lots of precursor acids. So another stage employs an extremely powerful light, powerful enough to give you a sunburn in under a minute, shining it at the wood suspended in alcohol to accelerate the break down of the wood. One process bubbles measured amounts of oxygen into the spirit to convert certain acids into aldehydes. The last process is another temperature process that utilizes bacteria from the wood to create new carboxylic acids which would usually be breathed in by the barrel and later converted to esters. Wash, rinse, esterify, and repeat.

Rating: Highly RecommendSo is this the end of barrel aged spirits? It could be. At the very least, it’s changing the landscape and understanding of the aged spirits industry. I knew this guy was going to do great things.

Thank you to Bryan and Joanne for the bottle. Cheers!

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Crown Royal – Northern Harvest Rye (45%)

20160229_145208Today’s guest blogger produces a television program back in his native England titled Friday with Furray. A self-professed full-time whisky-writer, he’s only 16 years young but still old as hell in human years, and definitely smells like he’s been slightly damp for a very long time. He likes Buffalo Trace, but loooves going for a walk and will hump your leg whether you want him to or not. Here to talk with us about his decision on this year’s Most Unbelievably Delicious Turd, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Jim Furray!

Jim: Rrrrrr-woof.

HTDW: Thank you. The pleasure is mine. Thanks for making the trip to come see us. So, I read your book and it says you’re from Corryketterburroughtonshire. How did you like growing up there?

Jim: Hrmphhh. (starts licking balls) Mmmrrrrrrrrr.

HTDW: Wow, that’s… heavy. You seem like such a casual guy about it all, though. Is that why you moved to Kentucky?

Jim: Rrrrr-oof. Rrrrrrrr-r-r-r-r-r. Hrmphhh.

HTDW: Hahahaha! Yea, I hear squirrel is a delicacy out there, but if I could change the direction of the conversation really quickly, can we talk about the whisky for a second?

Jim: Woof. Wwwwwwwoof woof. Arrrrrrr. Mmmhhhhmmmrrrooooooo!!! Woof woof rrrrrruf!

HTDW: That’s certainly high praise. I’m not offended by it, but I wouldn’t say it’s heavenly… it’s a $30 bottle of Canadian whisky. That’s stuff for cooking or making cocktails… or making cocktails and cooking… or ma-

Jim: Arr…rr…rrrrrooooo. Ruff. (shits on carpet)

HTDW: Aw, what the hell is this??? Bad dog! Bad, bad dog! You’re lucky I don’t rub your face in that… somebody get this asshole out of here. Sorry about that folks.

crownroyal

Nose: A bit of cedar, spiced orange rind, and malt. There’s a Bourbon hint, but it’s more like a first-fill unpeated malt… or Cognac. Actually, it has a lot of those Cognac grape notes. Over the top rye perfume, like the chemical tincture Templeton uses to flavor their whisky. Is that… powdered carpet deodorizer? Actually, the more I smell it the more I think of carpet deodorizer, especially after taking a sip.

Palate: Watery. Canadian. Tastes a little bit like marshmallow, as if the light whisky component were replaced with Kansas’ mellow spirit whisky. It tastes a bit like wine; Cognac really. Rye kicks up once it makes it down into your chest. I really liked the first glass, but after another I started to feel like I was drinking perfume mixed with apple juice.

Rating: Try itI understand feeling like you need a guide. It’s a huge market to explore. Maps are helpful, but nobody needs a gospel. Whisky is meant to be explored. It’s supposed to be fun, so while there are great whiskies and shitty ones, there is no singular “best whisky,” and if there were, it would never find itself on a shelf for $30.

As for Crown Royal overall, it’s cheap, not terrible, and widely available. It’s far from the worst whisky out there, but it’s not the best whisky in Canada, not the best in North America, and certainly not the best in the world.

*all characters appearing in this work are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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W.L. Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique 107, and W.L. Weller 12 year

It’s not really Bourbon Buffalo Trace season anymore, but that’s what we’re talking about today because that’s how we roll here at How to Drink Whisky Enterprises. We are current as fuck and super diligent about blogging. We want you to be current as fuck with us because, dammit, you deserve it. But we respect that you’re a casual readership, too. You’re attention span is small. So small. Such a small, tiny attention span it is, but so valuable! So pay attention! This is important!!!

 

Weller Special Reserve vs Antique 107 vs 12 Year

 

Do you or anyone you know do guerrilla landscaping? Like… if I paid you to spite-mow a giant dong  on my neighbor’s lawn, would you do it? My neighbor’s lawn desperately needs a giant dong mowed into it. How much do you think that would cost?

 

Special Reserve – (45%)

Nose: Farmy with a minerally graphite. Sweet, wheat chaff and hot, buttered waffles. Not very complicated and without serious flaws.

Palate: Easy-going. Tempered butterscotch candies and diluted wood. Hint of vanilla. It’s almost like it comes out of the bottle with a splash of water already added. Easy palate. Easy finish. Easy easy easy.

Rating: RecommendedThis one is a no-brainer. For $20-30? Buy! Buy! Buy! Plus, like the Antique 107, people often buy single casks of this one for their store, club, or friends. These store picks can range from pedestrian to amazing, making for an affordable and collectible whisky experience.. not that we would ever recommend collecting bottles over drinking them.

 

Old Weller Antique 107 – (53.5%)

Nose: It starts minerally like the Special Reserve, but takes a quick turn and becomes spicy and sour, like a hit of undiluted lemon juice or a backyard pile of wet sawdust that’s just starting to ferment. Good but definitely more aggressive woodiness.

Palate: A bit of a kick. Short but bold finish with a slightly numbing tongue. Stripped down cinnamon and honey. Citrus rind.

Rating: Try itThis one could use an ice cube or two. No judgement here. Personally, I much prefer the Special Reserve. The sour note on the Antique kind of puts me off. It seems to me like they trade a bit of favorable flavor for a slightly sexier proof. Still, as with the Special Reserve, $20-30 is not a bad deal, and store picks can be exceptional.

 

12 Year – (45%)

Nose: Like a mix of the Special Reserve and 107, all the sour and vanilla, but balanced with a rich layer of vanilla and fruit, making the sour bearable and the vanilla richer. Raspberry sorbet. Those glowy red cocktail cherries. Cultured butter on granite.

Palate: Not nearly as harsh as the 107 and much sweeter, creamier vanilla than the Special Reserve. Birthday cake with chocolate frosting. Cinnamon. Citrus. Buttery. Not overwhelming but still a very seductive drinker.

Rating: Highly RecommendI love this one. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to find. At roughly the same “honest” retail as the other two, this one takes the prize for me. That’s not to say I haven’t found store picks of the Special Reserve and Antique 107 that were as good or better than the average 12 year bottling.

 

Guerrilla landscapers interested in the position, please leave a link to your CV in the comments below. Cheers!

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Compass Box – The General (53.4%)

Compass Box The General Sample

Some people are reserved. They’re hard to pry or get to know. You can ask them a bunch of questions but their answers will stay short and professional. My father’s side of the family is almost entirely the quiet type. My dad grew up in Montana; his dad moved there from West Virginia because… um… I don’t quite remember, but I thought it had something to do with shoes. Or was it that it was getting too crowded for him in WV? He’s hard to talk to on the phone so I’ll probably never find out.

On the other hand, some people are verbal geysers and will talk whether you want them to or not. My maternal family are mostly talkers. My aunt will call to ask me a question and suddenly it’s a half hour later. Talking is fine and all, but occasionally my brain just needs me to stop doing things like holding a phone or paying attention. I try and think of a way to break away politely and then I freeze up. Occasionally, it gets so bad that I come down with conversational Stockholm Syndrome. I forget that I’ve been trying to hang up for 20 minutes and accidentally start an entirely new conversation.

The General is a blended Scotch which, in homage to blending, is a perfect balance of these people… if people were whisky. You don’t need to try very hard to get it to talk to you, even if you’ve never met it before, but it keeps it’s weird political views to itself even once you’re more familiar. It’s just a really nice person whisky.

My maternal uncle, Brody, talking about his last trip to the dentist.

My maternal uncle, Brody, talking about his last trip to the dentist.

The ad copy posits that an unamed blender vatted a few young whiskies for bottling and for one reason or another, instead of bottling it, they poured the blended Scotch back into casks. After 33 years, two groups of these blended casks made their way to John Glaser, one group much older than the other . They would be blended into a limited release of only 1,698 bottles. 

Nose: Dried apricots and handfuls of hay. Cream and soft caramel candies. There’s a smoky, almost crab-like, oceanic umami note. Cooked orange oil and shellac, lovingly massaged into a mahogany panel with a dirty sock. Stamp glue and malted milk balls. A brick of dark brown sugar and plums drenched in apple juice and garnished with confetti made from pulpy, lined yellow paper. Bright citrus peels, pine sap, crisp apples and fruity cocoa nibs. The fruit unfolds over time and is worth careful consideration. Cinnamon sugar toast. The soles of a brand new pair of Converse All Stars. Model airplane glue. Watermelon. It’s like an olfactory Rorschach test, complex and nebulous with plenty to explore.

Palate: Bushels of malt and dark, almost burned, caramel. Earthy and green, like fresh spring pea tendrils. Spicy cinnamon and rolling tobacco. Freeze dried orange peel sprinkled over glazed doughnuts. Plums lacquered with sherry. It has a very light smoke from the hyper-aged peat stocks that seem to have melted into glutamates. Chewy, punchy, Bourbony, with a long spicy finish, and a schizophrenia that turns itself bold or mild mannered depending on why you’re drinking it.

Rating: Highly RecommendThe decades of maturation add depth to the blend’s mild disposition and all the component whiskies are easy to enjoy in unison. This is something special for sure.

It was supposed to retail for around $300, but trying to find a bottle now might leave you missing a kidney. I hesitated to highly recommend this one based on the price, but the label’s design and the whisky’s pedigree are both too charismatic to dismiss. I’m not one to usually buy bottles over $200, either, but if you can find a bottle of The General on a shelf priced in the 300’s you’d be a fool not to grab it up.

Thank you to Chris Maybin from Compass Box for providing the sample!

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Compass Box – Great King Street Artist’s Blend (43%)

compassboxGKSABI’ve been killing a lot of time, lately. I haven’t been waiting for something in particular, more like wandering for the sake of wandering… on the internet.

First, I pretended I was going to learn Spanish, again. Yea right. Four minutes later I was neck deep in a pile of YouTube videos. Did you know you can light a fire with your pee? Crazy. Someday, that information will change the quality of your life, drastically.

Next, I considered building an earth oven in the backyard; you know, for that once or twice a year I make bread, when the weather’s right, my antidepressants are chugging along at full capacity, and I randomly had the foresight to cold ferment the dough long enough beforehand to make it all worthwhile? So basically, I’d need three perfect days in a row to use it. Or maybe two perfect days with a shitty day separating them. Whatever. I would use it so many times that a raccoon would probably move in and live a long, healthy, bread-less life before the second time I fired it up.

When my brain felt like it was starting to slow down, I turned to online sudoku. Interestingly enough, Sudoku is where my brain goes to die, now.

Eventually in my wandering, I gave up seeking out engaging intellectual sustenance altogether, so I turned to Facebook. There, I stalked some people I went to middle school with, filled out a few fun surveys and learned some dark, dark things about humanity. The most mature of these recent insights, is that the quality of drink I tend to choose is directly affected by my mood and that both my drink and mood are heavily influenced by my preference for extreme variety. It wasn’t all zen insight on facebook, though. There were dick jokes… so many dick jokes. And cat pics. Cat pics and dick jokes. It occurs to me, if there were a contest for the biggest waste of time among all of the time-killing hobbies I’m celebrating here, writing about them still has a great shot at taking home the grand prize. Moving on.

typeofbread

The Great King Street Artist’s Blend is like the internet of whisky. Great King Street doesn’t make you work for its brand of instant gratification. It’s just there, waiting to be plucked from the glass. It’s not fancy. It doesn’t beg. It can be questionable in ways but it’s extremely useful and the price is right. I would call it public library whisky, a frill-less way to indulge your thirst. In that way, the Artist’s Blend is a deliciously casual choice if you need to bring something to a party for everyone to share.

Nose: Floral. Gentle with sun bleached hay bales. Fresh cream and malted barley. Subtle canned pears. A an empty tin that used to hold those thumbprint cookies with the Hershey’s Kisses on top. Green banana peels by the beach.

Palate: Not too sweet. Not too hot. A little youthful and a bit like a shortbread cookie with a light dusting of cayenne. Sprightly. Light citrus with kiwi. Milk chocolate, at times, verging on bitter. Poached raisins in black pepper on the finish. Not incredibly bold or complicated.

Rating: Highly RecommendAt $35, the Great King Street Artist’s Blend is a no-brainer. I love this whisky. It’s easy going, light and extremely drinkable. The price seals the deal and proves that affordable Scotch doesn’t have to suck. I’d love to see a high proof version,  but this is still great.

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Compass Box – Boxed Set

compass box cover

Compass Box is a blending house, so their obvious goal is to blend “accessible” whiskies. If you’re more of a fan of cask strength single malts or bolder American styles, these probably won’t be that enticing. Having said that, if Johnnie Walker is your benchmark for good blended whisky, then these are going to blow your mind. Personally, I’m cheering for them. I hope they’ll be able to wrestle the idea of blended Scotch away from the terror that lurks on those shelves today. It’s nice to see a few affordable blends that don’t suck.

Compass Box has a long history of smartly packaging their products, and this box set is no exception. The wooden box opens up to five vials of different Compass Box releases; Hedonism, Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster. I really dig sample packs like this; all the fun of compulsively emptying vials like an alchemist of some sort, coupled with a chance to get a more fleshed out picture of the company’s vision before making a judgement about their talents.

So without further ado, let’s see how the whiskies stack up.

 

Hedonism (43%)
Blended Grain

Nose: Light and sugary. Over-seasoned “greywood”. Dry almond, like a thumbprint cookie. Warm butterscotch. It has a bright bite to it, very much like a Canadian whisky. Freshly constructed barn rafters. A little water helps the perfume rise.

Palate: Mild with wisps of Sugar Crisp cereal. Buttery, cherry danish with sliced almonds. Dirty penny with slightly peppery notes that drag out the finish. Water dilutes the bitter metallic part a little bit and lets the caramel/vanilla notes’ show.

Rating: Try itIn a blind tasting, I would swear this was Canadian. I really don’t like very much Canadian style whisky, and this certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but if it were competing against all of the Canadian stuff I’ve tried, I’d say this is a great example.

Still, Canadian whisky is CHEAP! There’s no reason to buy this when there are so many more affordable whiskies coming out of Canada. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great Canadian-style whisky if that’s what you’re looking for, but with a cost approaching $90, it’s definitely over-priced. At half the price, try looking for Forty Creek, instead.

 

Asyla (40%)
Blended Scotch

A blended Scotch,  which means it’s comprised of both grain and malt whiskies. As would be expected, the profile is somewhere between the Hedonism and the Oak Cross.

Nose: Almost like a light Clynelish. Malty pear with a drop of farm and flowers. Still very light and approachable. If you can smell past the sweetness there are some delicious green pepper notes hiding in the drink.

Palate: Sweet and easy drinking. Malty pear flavors usually predict peppery notes and are hot, but here the pepper is extremely watery. Rich, Canadian-whisky type butterscotch as it trails off.

Rating: Try itLike the Hedonism, this whisky comes with a luxury price tag. Clynelish and Old Pulteney both provide the same profile at the same price point but with a depth of flavor not found in this. Now, unseasoned whisky drinkers may find the mildness desirable, so choose between these with that in mind. This is an extremely accessible whisky and would be a good middle step for converting non-whisky people to the drink.

 

-This review brought to you in part by-

weezwares

 

Oak Cross (43%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Bolder and spicier. Dried trail mix carrots. The profile is definitely getting meatier. Grassy notes start to appear, alongside hints of ginger powder and green apple peels. It’s still a little watery to me.

Palate: A little Cognac, a little honey, a little potting soil. Slightly drying. Peppery with a nice medium finish that leaves a rich tingle on the tongue.

Rating: Try itIn conversation, very few people would speak ill of Compass Box, and that this is a blended malt whisky is great, for its category, but the whole point of any blend is to make it more affordable. The trade off is cost to taste while attempting to balance the two. While these seem to be good for blending expositions, so far, they’re anything but affordable.

 

Spice Tree (46%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Tiny rubbery note, with a nice, rich, butter-drenched fruitiness layered over it. Raisins and dried pineapple. Nutmeg and ginger powder. Dried orange peel. Caramelized malted barley baked into a brittle.

Palate: The pepper in this one amplifies as time passes and is the most aggressive yet. Numbing clove and Sichuan pepper on the tongue. Almost phenolic. Sweet and sherried with nutmeg and dried fig. Lime and polished leather.

Rating: RecommendedMoving in a linear line, the Spice Tree has the most spice and sherry. The sweetness tones down a bit, though that’s not a bad thing. This one best frames some of the similarities between French Sessile oak (what we usually think of as wine casks) and Spanish Pendunculate oak (what we typically think of as sherry casks). Now we’re talking! This one is delicious and at around $60 right in the sweet spot of the flavor/price balancing act.

 

compass box sampler

Peat Monster (46%)
Blended Malt

I didn’t have high hopes for this one, seeing as the status quo for Compass Box is to blend “accessibly,” whatever that means. Most of the blends in this box have been less than inspiring for the price, kind of defeating the purpose of a blend, to me.

Nose: Surf and Turf! Bacon wrapped scallops served over seared chicken skin. Iodine-rich seawater. Slightly stony. Fresh sea breeze and crushed barnacles. Dried sage and sambal chili paste. Not super complex, but delicious smelling all the same. Smells a bit like there’s some Laphroaig mixed in there…

Palate: It’s surprisingly gentle on the palate. The peat creeps in and blossoms into bright iodine with a lime tang. Umami and mushrooms with salt that revs up in the finish into spicy fire. Easy going bandage phenols and a tiny bit of copper. The finish is delightful as the fumes expand through your mid-section and rise back up to your head, inescapably reminding you that you definitely drank a good dose of peat.

Rating: RecommendedIt’s not exactly what it says it is; not quite a monster… maybe a very desirable beast of peaty burden to carry you through your cravings. This provides a terrific example of how a whisky can be “accessible” and still please the whisky anoraks. For just under $50, the price is right, too!

The proof on these is on the low side, so if you’re looking for a face-melter, these won’t do. I think these are best suited to coax gentle drinkers in to the fold with easy to explore Scotches they can nose and drink comfortably.

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