Today’s whiskies seemed to have an escapism theme – Zeppelin Bend and Angel’s Envy rye. Battle of the bottles would be tough with these two: an artsy zeppelin flying around one bottle and a drawing of angel’s wings on the other. I think if I had to fly somewhere fast, a bar full of whiskey would probably be my destination, so the idea is not that far off.
I added a new element of nerdiness to my tastings today. I brought a little bottle of vanilla and spice bottles full of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The idea was to smell the pure smells against the whiskey and then try and recognize them when I drank it. Then I realized I already kind of spread out all over the bar with my two glasses and the two bottles and some water and a straw and my iPhone and my whiskey notebook and my other notebook. Adding a spice rack seemed a little over the top. So instead I pulled them one by one out of my bag and tried to smell them inconspicuously. I don’t know how well I pulled that off, but thankfully, a bar at 4 p.m. on a holiday Monday is not too crowded.
When I was a kid, I used to love to sit on the counter and open up spice jars to smell them, picking out my favorites. I would like to say that led me to a heightened sense of smell recognition, but I don’t think that’s the case. I feel like my sense of taste is strongly affected by texture and memory, which tends to get in the way of pure smell. I’m counting on practice makes perfect, though. And if I must drink more whiskey to learn its ways, well, then, I must.
On a cold, wintry evening, sitting in a library by a fire with a Scotch and jazz music playing is about as perfect as it gets. The only thing I would have added is a purring cat on my lap, but I don’t think they allow those at the Brandy Library.
The Brandy Library really seemed more of a whiskey library to me and featured my favorite décor – shelves of bottles surround the room, bathed in an amber glow, and little ladders roll across for easy reach to their extensive collection. They have cigars and a fireplace and comfy chairs. For those who have read Little Women, it’s kind of like I picture Laurie’s grandfather’s library if you take out the books and replace them with whiskey. It’s also very quiet like a library.
Tough to choose off the menu. It’s one of the better Scotch selections I’ve seen in New York – many lines of delicious-looking unpronounceable names. I went with Aberlour’s A’bunadh to start out with. And then I also tried W.L. Weller 12-year. It's a bourbon not Scotch, but I couldn’t resist – I haven’t seen it anywhere and I like all the other Wellers. If Scotch is for a wintry evening by a fire, bourbon makes me want to sit on a porch in the shade, but actually either of these would be fine anywhere. Especially in my mouth where they belong.
I had a feast of whiskies tonight, a lovely spread of riches in glasses that seemed to consume me as I consumed them.
The line-up started out with Stagg, Jr. and Midwinter Nights Dram, and was later joined by George T. Stagg. If you are counting, that’s a mighty high proof of an evening. It was as flavorful as a meal and, to be honest, much more satisfying.
Someday when the world is bitter and cold, and I am downtrodden by life’s troubles, I will remember an evening when I reveled in the delights of these whiskies. And I will smile with the impression of the taste still lingering on my memory’s tongue.
Today was the most challenging day of my New Year’s goal to drink 33 new whiskies in less than 30 days. And by challenging, I mean as hard as it gets to sit at a bar and drink whiskey. I went with two unusual ones, Corsair Centennial and Low Gap wheat whiskey. Neither one is a traditional whiskey, but to take it even further, they both push the boundaries of what a “whiskey taste” is. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what whiskies generally taste like, so it was interesting to bump into two at one bar sitting that defied that idea.
That is what’s really interesting about American whiskey, specifically American whiskey today. We certainly have our traditional styles with quite specific rules. But then there’s a whole experimentation scene that bends and twists the rules to create something unique. I struggle a bit because I like the taste of many traditional whiskey styles, so I don’t necessarily want something too different. But then, different has the benefit of making me take notice. The real test is to step outside of my expectations and recognize it as different and then evaluate whether I still like it on its own terms.
These two are good in themselves. Would I actually choose them over something more traditional done really well? I’m not so sure. In the end, I got a Buffalo Trace original just to pit these against something familiar and try to suss out what makes them whiskey and what makes them seem so incredibly different.
Today, I looked for a couple of things I had never tried and rolled the dice. Which led me to Black Velvet Reserve Canadian Whisky (to represent our neighbors up north) and Wild Turkey Forgiven, a blend of bourbon and rye.
I don’t know what it is about Canadian whisky, but it immediately tastes like all things Canadian to me – maple cookies, syrup, and hockey. It’s friendly, familiar, and wintry.
The Wild Turkey was more of a wild card. The sweet bourbon and spicy rye kissed in the glass and then kissed me, and we were all happy. This one reminded me of autumn and a day tromping through fallen leaves. In red rain boots.