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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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Most Recent Whisky Review

Red River

This is a Texas bourbon finished in Pinot Noir red wine casks at the Western Son distillery in Pilot Point Texas.  If you haven't heard of Pilot Point, dont worry about it,  neither had I and I have lived and / or worked in Texas for over quarter of a century!  The nose has some red berry fruits and sweet port wine along with the usual suspects of corn and sawdust.  The taste is smooth on palate with some oak, brown sugar and cola.  The finish has white pepper, green oak and ends with drying wine notes.  It's good... but for me this 42.1% ABV expression misses the fruit from the nose in the taste and finish that would help balance out the bitter / oaky notes of the finish.

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  • Saturday, 23 June 2012 18:33

    Diversity Awareness (and Why Wood is an Ingredient)

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    I haven't changed the focus of this website to UK street dancing troops (for that see the website www.somanyukstreetdancingtroops.com) and I have not been sent to a series of classes after work following an unfortunate miscommunication with a colleague.  But I have now reviewed over 250 whiskies, as well the 101 I originally went in search of, and as I look back on those reviews something becomes very clear.   The diversity of tasting notes is much greater in scotch than in bourbon.  There seems to be many more flavor types that can be found in a typical scotch, or to put it another way there is no such thing as "typical scotch".  In fact that phrase is an oxymoron, like saying "happy Scotrail employee".

     

    Various rules and regulations define what can be a called a scotch, as do similar standards in the USA and yet Scotland seems to produce more varied final product.   At first this seemed a little counter intuitive to me, after all bourbon has the advantage of more ingredient options.  It must contain 51% corn as a minimum, but rye, wheat and barley can all be used, where scotch is limited to just good ole John Barleycorn.  Surely a chef with four ingredients can make a wider range of dishes than a chef with just one?

    The use of peat certainly helps create variety and as yet a bourbon made with peated barley (which I believe would still be perfectly acceptable under the definition) does not exist, and upon further reflection perhaps that is a good thing.  However it's not as simple as does the whisky has smoke or not.  The differences, in my opinion, are due to the wood options available to scotch producers.

    I have been told by various sources that the cask will account for 60 – 70% of the final flavor, while the spirit will be 40% - 30% depending on age of spirit (longer maturation of course means more wood influence).   The bourbon rules are very specific on wood and barrel.  Bourbons must be aged for 2 years in American white oak, charred and of course most importantly, they have to be NEW barrels. On the other hand scotch regulations just requires the spirit to be aged in oak for 3 years.  And so the maturation, blending, finishing and vatting options for scotch are really endless.  American or European oak? Used or new? Charred or uncharred? Before being used to mature scotch they may have contained wine, bourbon, rum, beer, sherry, port and madeira and they can be reused and re-used (often filled 3 times before being retired as garden center planters).

    This simple difference (new barrels versus used barrels) can explain the variety in the taste profile, scotch having the widest variety of flavors while bourbon has a much tighter grouping.  The scotch producer, while limited in ingredients, has more flexibility in wood and therefore can influence the "70%".  The bourbon producer has few options regarding wood but has more variety in the spirit production, but that spirit may only account for the "30%".  This is not to say more variety is good, or that the broad range in anyway reflects on quality, just think supermarket cola and Pepsi Cola... same basic  flavors but vastly different quality.   Quality is a whole different subject.

    So considering the massive the impact on the final product I think it is clear that wood is an "ingredient" in whisky and the standard Scottish distillery tour should perhaps tone down the magical water source and location of warehouse rhetoric and other routinely spouted tourist babble and perhaps just say scotch whisky has four ingredients... barley, water, yeast and wood.

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