Whiskey whiskey, you can be the devil. Why are some so hard to get? Why are some so expensive? What is the difference in all of them?
To start, there are a few different kinds of whiskey. It can be made from various sources, mostly corn, rye, barley and wheat. The base material is a good general indicator of what the finished product will taste like, before the aging process also manipulates the end result.
Bourbon can only be called such if the whiskey is at least 51% corn in the mash bill, and it must be aged in a first used charred barrel. (The mash bill is basically the recipe that each individual distiller uses for their whiskey) It can be from anywhere in the United States and can be aged for any amount of time. In order to have “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” on the label, the bourbon must be aged at lease 2 years and can not have any coloring added.
Rye consumption has increased rapidly in the past year, mainly due to a combination of better quality products and the high cost of whiskeys in general. Rye whiskey must be 51% rye, the rest of the rules apply as they do to Bourbon. There is also a large influx of Canadian Whiskey, but here we’re only addressing American Rye. It tends to have a spicier, almost oily coating quality to it. Often used in cocktails, it imparts a lighter and drier flavor than the richer drinks made with the sweeter Bourbon.
Those are the two we most encounter here in the United States. But why is whiskey getting so expensive and hard to find? Most of the time when people discuss this, they’re talking Pappy Van Winkle. Bottles start now at $600 for the entry level bourbon, and go up to $5000 for rare bottles. Pappy is made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, and is known for having a richer flavor for its addition of wheat to the mash bill, as well as small amounts of malted barley added. I’ve had it. It’s not bad. Worth that much money is another story!
Be wary of the whiskey you choose. As with Scotch, which is aged in old Bourbon barrels, Sherry barrels or Madeira barrels, bourbon and rye flavor profiles can change with extra aging too. Also, check out the background of your whiskey. Maker’s Mark is a huge production, but they have their own distillery, as does Buffalo Trace. Jack Daniels is a Tennessee Whiskey, which means it’s made under a different process involving charcoal filtration. Bulleit’s distillery won’t be done being built until 2016. They have been selling whiskey for years, but they make and blend it somewhere else. There are a lot of whiskies that do that it. It’s expensive to build a distillery. Some very good ones are made this way. Some are more specific, as Four Roses, which produces its own strain of yeast for their distillation. The end result is a huge array of different whiskies, all with a different flavor profile.
When discovering whiskey, start with the basics. Try the big ones! Then as you refine your taste for it, try some small batch bourbons and ryes. They’re made in very small quantities, and tend to be harder to get and have a smaller amount of people involved in the process.
Currently Bottlenose carries several small-batch, hard-to-find, or unusual whiskeys that you should definitely know about. About a month ago, we got in our first order of Hire Wire “Revival” Bourbon Whiskey. This product comes to us from Charleston, South Carolina, and is made by husband-and-wife team, Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall. Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon does not necessarily need to be produced in Kentucky. What’s cool about this product is that it is “finished” for nine months in Madeira barrels. You’ll notice notes of raisin, light smoke, vanilla, spice, and toffee. The Madeira finishing imparts a richer, more fruit-forward palate. We are one of the very few retailers in New York City to offer this.
We have featured the lineup of whiskeys from Dark Horse Distilleries for some time now, but their brand is always worth mentioning again. They are based in Kansas City, Missouri, and we offer their Bourbon and Rye. We only have one more bottle of the Barrel Strength Rye left, and at almost 57% ABV, you’ll want to grab it! It’s a whopper. Dark Horse is cool because they are small-batch and run their own facility, which is more than can be said of larger companies.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey comes to us from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland and represents an American’s producer’s homage to Single Malt Scotch. It is made from 100% peat-malted barley brought in from Scotland and features of a petey-ness that most closely mimics the single malts of Islay—most specifically Lagavulin. This is a great choice for those of you who like both Scotch and American whiskey. Enjoy this hybrid!
High West “Double Rye” is brought in from Park City, Utah—Utah’s first distillery, opened in 1870. It gets its name from the fact that it is a combination of two ryes—one that is two years old and the other that is sixteen years old. You’ll taste notes of cinnamon, honey, anise, and “gin-like” evergreen flavors. If you’ve never tried a whiskey from out West, this might be your chance.