I have to admit up front, I’m not a whiskey connoisseur. Being a connoisseur implies a certain level of expertise and a refined palate, both of which I, for whiskey, sadly lack. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate a good single malt Scotch or a nice Kentucky rye Bourbon. I can tell the difference between a good distillation handcrafted with love and something mass-produced and speedily shipped off to market. I consider myself to be a burgeoning aficionado, continuing to learn more every day. However, I make no claims as to being able to discuss the finer points of flavor and color. The demarcation between the various whiskey types still remains a bit vague, so distinguishing nuances amongst each type, although instinctual, remains outside of my lexicon.
Which is to say that I have acquired very little language with which to explain the whiskeys that I’ve tried and the reasons that they may or may not resonate with me. I just know what I like. And, to simplify it considerably, whether on the rocks or in a Manhattan, I like me a whiskey that doesn’t trigger a gag reflex or the feeling that I’ve just swallowed gasoline.
After a hard day’s work, I enjoy coming home to my old trusty standby, a Manhattan made with Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Noilly Prat Rouge, and three drops of Angostura Aromatic Bitters, on the rocks, sometimes with a maraschino cherry. Buffalo Trace is also nice on the rocks, with just a bit of soda water. Not to mention still pretty affordable.
A recent bachelor party in the woods afforded the sampling of two excellent and very different whiskeys, Bulleit Bourbon and Glenmorangie Quinta Ruben Scotch. The Bulleit reminded me of bread pudding, with a faint vanilla scent and a smoothness that went down easy (and boded trouble). The Glenmorangie, on the other hand, had a rich sweetness to it, reminiscent of the port barrels in which it was aged. Both of which kept lit fires in our hearts, granting us courage to brave the near-freezing night as we set out in search of downed trees to cut with our trusty saw for the fire back in camp.
Visiting my father over Thanksgiving, I sampled a bit of Yukon Jack from a bottle he’s had on a shelf for some indeterminate amount of time. One hundred proof and sickeningly sweet with honey, it’d be a good ingredient in, say, a hot toddy for a sore throat. It’s not exactly the most pleasant of whiskeys to sip, ranking down there amongst such cloying liquors as Southern Comfort and Drambuie. That is to say, don’t drink it straight, unless you’re swigging from a flask at some throwback college party.
A new discovery, recently arrived from Newport, Oregon(or at least recently discovered by me), is Dead Guy Whiskey. Distilled from the leftover wort that goes into brewing Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, this whiskey has a sweet, vaguely smoky flavor with strange overtones of peat moss and, um, tequila. I’ve tried it in a Manhattan – a bad idea as this is no bourbon – and on the rocks with a splash of sparkling mineral water, which seems to suit it much better. The verdict is still out, but one thing I can say for certain is that it’s a unique distillation that makes me long for a hot, juicy steak with colcannon, a smoky pub somewhere in Oregon, and a few drunken Irish musicians downing, well, margaritas…