We started our day with a little sightseeing in Brussels. We hit the usual spots, including the Atomium, which is a remnant from the 1958 worlds fair. It’s over 100 meters tall. Pretty cool, especially considering that all we have leftover from the worlds fair in New York is some rusty flying saucers in Jamaica Queens. ( There is also a significant remnant from the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Richmond, VA. It is now the Belgian Friendship Building at Virginia Union University, and it is a National Historic Landmark. -ed.)
We also checked out the iconic Mannekin Pis. It’s very small, maybe 20 inches or so, and not much to look at. So I did what any forward thinking beer nerd would do and popped into Mort Subite for a glass of their house blended lambic, whose deliciousness words cannot describe.
The Whiskey Hotline’s next stop on the road through Kentucky and Tennessee? Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. You might remember our visit last summer. What has changed since? When we were there last July, the first floor of their newly renovated Warehouse A was half full of barrels. Now, the entire warehouse is nearly full. The place is buzzing. On our last visit, they were gearing up to build a grain mill and two bed & breakfasts. The mill is finished – a shipment of corn arrived and we got to watch it go up an auger and into a hopper. That was cool. And at least one of the B&B’s is done. It seems like they start a project every week, and finish one every four.
What did we taste? KBD resumed distilling in January of 2012, and we got our first taste of their young rye and bourbon after just 13 months in wood. Excited to taste them over hte next few decades. Also, they’re distilling using seven different mash bills – we were able to sneak back a bottle of their wheated bourbon recipe white dog. And it’s fantastic. After our delicious (and popular) last batch of Willetts, you know we want another round. So keep an eye out for more Binny’s Handpicked Willetts in these ages: 4 year, 6 year, 7 year, 8 year, 9 year, 10 year, and 22 year (!!!).
Day two on the Whiskey Hotline’s road trip? Corsair Artisan Spirits’s Nashville, Tennessee distillery. These guys are doing exciting things.
Listen, we’re always the first to knock the use of smaller barrels. You just can’t make a traditional bourbon, put it in small barrels, and expect it to taste good. That’s what makes Corsair different. While they do age in 15 gallon barrels, they play with the rest of the formula too: using experimental grains (quinoa?!), flavoring with hops, trying new mashes. At the same time, Corsair mostly produces mostly whiskies from malted barley, and have experimented with fifty different smoked barleys and seventy different hops.
By the way, Corsair just filled their first 30 gallon barrel last year. We tasted it; it isn’t ready, but when it is, there’s a good chance it winds up being a Binny’s Handpicked cask. We’ll revisit it soon. Did we bring back anything else? Watch for more of their delicious Triple Smoked.
Also, somebody at Corsair hearts monkeys.
What could be more tempting than sneaking a peek at somebody’s mail? Here’s your chance to see the kinds of letters we get every day. Have a question of your own? Email us at email@example.com. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I am extremely concerned about whiskeys being called bourbon, yet being aged in sherry/wine/brandy casks. Isn’t there a strict law about what can and cannot be called bourbon?
Yes and no. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (pdf) covers what needs to happen to whiskey before it can be called bourbon:
- It has to be made from at least 51% corn.
- It has to be aged in NEW, charred oak barrels.
- It can’t be distilled higher than 160 proof and can’t be put into a barrel for aging at higher than 125 proof.
- It has to be bottled at 80 proof or higher.
Bourbon that you see with sherry or port cask aging is FINISHED in those casks. These bourbons generally spend several years in the legally required new charred oak barrels, and then are finished in refilled port, sherry or whatever barrels for a short time, usually 3-9 months. Angel’s Envy is a great example of this – a bourbon that saw years in charred oak barrels that then sees extra time finishing in port casks, giving it its characteristic gobs of round fruit.
A couple big updates on Brophy’s Barrel.
First, I pulled the Founder’s Curmudgeon out and tasted it side by side with fresh Curmudgeon on tap at the South Loop Tasting Room.
Fresh off the tap, the Curmudgeon is great stuff. Full of bready malts on the nose, sweet cereal grains on the palate balanced by a nice bitterness. After spending a week and a half in barrel, the beer has gained a slightly ruby hue. On the nose it’s a little rubbery, with hints of burnt sugar. There is a faint suggestion of rum on the palate, flavors the barrel passed on from the Lemon Hart 151 that was in the barrel before – more burnt sugar than true rum flavor. It seems to have lost some body.
Overall, I think this barrel may be heading into retirement. It’s been through about six aging cycles, and seems to be more of a “neutral oak” vessel than anything else right now. But before I set it out to pasture forever, I’m going to test this theory by filling it with vodka. If it really is neutral, it shouldn’t affect the vodka more than some flavors from the Curmudgeon. We’ll see soon!
Bonus Barrel after the jump…
It’s been a while since our last update, but Brophy’s Barrel is still going strong. Actually, things got busy around here shortly after we took out the Lemon Hart 151. We didn’t put anything into the wood, so it sat dry for a few weeks. These miniature barrels do have a limited lifespan – just like real barrels – and we’re starting to worry that ours is nearing its end. How many different beverages have been in this barrel? We’re losing track.
So what do we do? Give up? That’s not like us at all. Barrel triage – we rehydrated the barrel by submerging it in water over a weekend. Here’s the newly refreshed barrel right out of the water:
Scotch is scotch, right?
Yes and no. How Scotch whisky is labeled and how we refer to said whisky on the label has been a contentious debate for as long as we have had whisky. Scotch whisky? Scotch malt whisky? Scotch grain whisky? Blended Scotch whisky? Single-malt whisky? Single-grain whisky? Pure malt whisky? Vatted malt whisky?
And then when we add definers such as Fine Old, Rare Old, Choice Old, Extra Special, Special Reserve, Aged, Finest, Oldest Matured; none of which actually define the age or quality of the whisky! It’s enough to make your head spin.
There are several laws currently defining how we label the water of life. Scotch whisky is whisky if:
A. The whisky has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only the whole grains of other cereals have been added) all of which have been:
1) processed at that distillery into a mash
2) converted to a fermentable substrate only by natural enzyme systems
3) fermented only by the addition of yeast
B. It has been distilled no higher than 94.8 proof so that it retains aromas and tastes of the production and ingredients used.
C. It has been matured for no less than 3 years in barrels no larger than 700 liters.
D. No substance other than water or caramel coloring has been added.
So how do those of us who just want to enjoy a dram sort it all out?
LEMON HART 151
It has now been two weeks since we filled our 1-liter barrel with Lemon Hart 151, plenty of time for the overproof rum to soak up influences from the barrel and the tequila that last filled it. Joe Maloney and I tasted the aged Lemon Hart together. What’s really interesting is that this rum has a lot of character on its own, so we’re guessing that more time in the wood can only settle it down a little.
On the nose, the brown sugar that absolutely dominates Lemon Hart has toned way down. There’s a lot more spice, anise and fruit. Joe yelled out “Holy Pepper Pat Man!” So I guess he gets lots of peppery notes. On the palate, the fat sweetness is still there, now underlined with layers of smoke and cooked asparagus. The heavy molasses remains, but this vegetal, peppery quality has joined it.
I like the added dimensiosn the Lemon Hart gained. Joe does not. Lemon Hart is all about the Demerara sugar and heat as is. The addition of subtle smoke is nice. I don’t find the vegetal asparagus note from the tequila to be too much. At any rate, it was a cool experiment.
We’ve been experimenting with aging spirits in a one-liter barrel for a couple of months now and hope you’ve been following along. We recently got our hands on a second little wooden barrel for our experiments, and we decided to do something drastic. Something we don’t do often and something we aren’t very good at. We decided to follow the instructions.
That barrel you see there on the right is from the Cedar Ridge Age Your Own Whiskey Kit – a great gift idea that comes with a barrel, bottle of Cedar Ridge Unaged Whiskey, and instructions that tell you how to age the whiskey on your own. We figured this was our chance to get back to basics and age some white whiskey as the kit was intended.
We tasted fresh Cedar Ridge Unaged Whiskey before putting it into the barrel, and we have to say that this is some of the best … well … least offensive white whiskey we’ve tasted. The nose has the familiar herbal notes common in unaged whiskey, but the Cedar Ridge is cleaner, lighter. Peppery on the palate, spicy, but the alcohol is in check. It might help that this is 100 proof; new make usually has more alcohol. Overall, this is a light, spicy and fresh spirit.
We’ll open up the barrel and taste it from time to time to watch its evolution. Check back to see Brophy’s Barrel soon. We’re really looking forward to seeing where this goes!