Thursday, May 10, 2012

three whiskeys (that's what I said now)

Kansas Clean Distilled Whiskey, Bastille 1789 French whisky, and the Parker's Heritage Collection Cognac-finished Bourbon. There are two things these three whiskeys have in common:

1: They're delicate in flavor, sort of the opposite end of the spectrum from rye.

2: I own them.

I actually wasn't planning on covering these whiskeys together originally, until it struck me that the three whiskeys I have on hand that I haven't blogged about do in fact share that first characteristic together, despite being three very different whiskeys: Clean is "spirit whiskey," a blend of aged and unaged wheat whiskey; the Parker's Heritage is a 10 year old bourbon finished in Cognac barrels; Bastille is a French whisky.

They all use wheat, so I suppose that's another thing they have in common - Bernheim's wheat whiskey would fit well in this post, if I still had any on hand.

Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey is about as unusual an American whiskey as I've seen: a "spirit whiskey" which combines aged whiskey (I don't know how old, nor the mashbill, but I would guess since they don't say bourbon or rye that it isn't bourbon or rye) with unaged wheat grain spirit. Wheat is so, so light and sweet that that this is functionally similar to diluting the aged whiskey with neutral spirits, like Canadian whiskey. In some ways you lop off the distinctive characteristics of each element - you have neither the heat and funk associated with many unaged spirits (especially white whiskey) nor the depth and complexity of an aged whiskey. That doesn't mean you're left with nothing - there's still a solid whiskey backbone, and it makes for a spirit that's very easy to drink, though one that's easily lost when mixed with other flavors.

France isn't exactly associated with whiskey, and yet Bastille 1789 is about what I expected a French whisky would be: floral, elegant, delicate, brandy-like in a lot of ways, though drier. It's 80 proof but tastes even lower proof than that. The pamphlet around the neck says it's pot-distilled from barley and wheat and aged 5 to 7 years in Limousin oak, cherry wood, and Acacia casks. Really it's a lot like a brandy made from a whisky mashbill (an unusual one at that - I guess single grain or blended Scotch might use barley and wheat, but it's not a combination I'm used to). I don't know what the exact mashbill is, nor whether those casks are new or used, though I would guess they're new.

The Parker's Heritage Collection is a series of whiskeys, one released each year, overseen by Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam (member of the Beam family that produces Jim Bean and other whiskeys). This is the fifth release: a 10 year old bourbon (rye mash - all bourbons are at least 51% corn with the remainder wheat and rye; this one uses more rye than wheat) that spends its last six months in Limousin oak barrels that had been used to age Grande Champagne Cognac. It's a collaboration with Cognac distiller Alain Royer, and man it is my favorite thing. This is something we need to see more of. Using used barrels to "finish" a spirit is something you see with Scotch a lot, and sometimes rum - it makes sense, because so many used barrels are produced in the course of making liquor (and fortified wines), and they're full of flavor. Six months on Cognac barrels REALLY makes a difference with this bourbon - much more floral and fruit character than bourbon has on its own. The combination of the sweetness of bourbon and the Cognac notes is almost rum-like in some ways. Not coincidentally, it's the most expensive of these three whiskeys, at about $80 - but I've had Scotch at that price that wasn't half as good.

As different as they are, those similarities wind up being pretty important, because there is not much you want to do with these whiskeys other than drink them straight, make an Old-Fashioned, or make a whiskey sour. Anything else - vermouth in a Manhattan or Brooklyn, absinthe in a Sazerac, even liqueur - just overpowers the whiskey character. The Parker's can stand up to the most additives, and the Cognac even stays on the nose - but this is one time when it's true that an expensive whiskey can be too expensive to mix with; add more than a little bit of bitters or lemon juice to this, and you're not going to taste the difference between this $80 whiskey and a $25 whiskey.

This isn't necessarily a flaw of the whiskeys, mind you - it all depends on how you drink your whiskey. The Bastille is only 80 proof, and sweet enough that even people who don't often drink straight whiskey should have no problem with it if they have no problem with Manhattans. Add an ice cube if you want, but only one - this whiskey really disappears fast if you dilute it too much.

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