As summer ends and the air gets a bit of a chill, I am suddenly reminded that the spirit of choice for the new season will once again be whisk(e)y. For me, summer is a time to give whiskies a bit of a vacation so I can allow my tongue a few months to cool off. But with the autumnal equinox upon us, it’s time to get back on that sturdy brown pony for yet another ride. And what better way to re-train your palate than with a tasting of various whiskies that are new to me – if not new to the market altogether? That’s why I recently attended a tasting called “The Best Whiskies You’ve Never Had” at The Astor Center of New York City.
A mixture of bourbons and scotches, the tasting featured some familiar brands offering new expressions as well as a few brands previously unknown to me.
By far the best bourbon I had the entire day was 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. Although I had heard of 1792 before, this was the first time I can recall ever having a taste. For those of you who are similarly unfamiliar with the brand, 1792 is based in Kentucky – in fact, their home is where their name comes from. Kentucky was made the 15th state of the United States in the year 1792 – so, as a proud reminder of that landmark, they decided to name the company after the year Kentucky earned its statehood.
Its 93 proof Ridgemont Reserve is just about as smooth as a bourbon can get; with 51% corn, its smoothness comes from a high concentration of rye in its recipe (the manufacturer keeps its recipe something of a secret, but it is believed that some degree of hops and barley are also included among its ingredients). During its eight year aging process, the company keeps its spirit in the same barrel all throughout, but interestingly, moves the barrel to different locations in its warehouse during that period of time. The reason for this is due to the fact that they discovered as much as a 20 degree difference in temperature variations in various parts of the warehouse, which has an impact on the bourbon. In warmer temperatures, the wood from the barrel tends to absorb more of the spirit, imparting greater flavor; in cooler temperatures, the barrel tends to deflect the bourbon, allowing it to instead just sit untouched in the barrel. They found that moving the barrel throughout its aging impacts the taste of the bourbon in a way that somewhat evens it out prior to bottling.
As far as Scotches are concerned, my recommendation from this tasting is the Dun Bheagan Laphroaig 10 year Sherry Cask. At this point some of you might be scared off by the mention of Laphroaig, given its notoriously smoky taste (“Feels like I’m drinking an ashtray”, as I heard one man describe the sensation). But do make sure to give this one a chance because it’s quite different from the 10 year old Laphroaig most of us are used to.
The reason for the difference is due to the fact that it is finished in sherry casks for the last six to eight months of its aging process; this slight change winds up having an enormous impact on its flavor. Just a relatively short time in the sherry casks imparts a degree of sweetness to the scotch, making the smokiness from the peat considerably less harsh to the taste – but make no mistake about it, you can most definitely still taste that peat!