Today’s forecast was freezing rain, warming to rain. But for me, it was all sunshine and cozy thanks to my two new friends: Parker and Bowmore. I pitted a wheated bourbon against a peated Scotch. Sort of. I decided to taste them one at a time, so the smoke in the peat wouldn’t take over the tongue.
That may not have been a valid concern. At barrel strength, the Parker had flavor to spare, and the Scotch was actually quite soft. Opposites attract, I guess, and these both attracted me.
My New Year's whiskey tasting challenge went social this weekend at an event at Brooklyn Wine Exchange: Bourbon vs Rye. While I had tasted many of the classics offered, I did get to meet two new bourbons. Meeting whiskey at a party with a bunch of people is not quite the same as meeting it alone at a bar. I didn’t catch everything it was trying to say. But whatever, we had fun and I learned other useful things.
For instance, Kyle Devine – who was leading the class – gave us a helpful way to think about the general flavors in rye and bourbon. He described it like bread – corn bread is sweeter; rye bread is spicier. Which sounds obvious, but hadn’t occurred to me before. When I think of it that way, other flavors from those breads pop out in my mind to try and taste in the whiskies. I see an afternoon of pairing whiskies and breads in my future.
But for now, let’s meet J.W. Overbey Bourbon and Corner Creek Bourbon. These two show the range of bourbon production in the US. J. W. Overbey is made in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It’s so local that Joseph (as in J) stopped by our class to pour some out for us. It ages four to six months in small (5-gallon) barrels, and they make about five barrels per month, which, as Joseph pointed out, “is pretty good for a 600-square-foot distillery.” They use traditional methods that people used for making bourbon on farms 100 years ago.
The early evening crowd at a whiskey bar in Brooklyn can be very unique. Today it was me at one end and a poet with his 4-week-old strapped to his chest at the other. If I had a 4-week-old strapped to my chest, I can imagine how a glass of whiskey would hit the spot.
I had my biggest tasting challenge today – two aged bourbons. While the other days, I have chosen whiskies that were distinct from each other, today, I had two traditional bourbons and it was a little bit like sitting down with twins. I really had to try to tell them apart and delighted in each little mole and freckle. They were both well balanced and not either particularly syrupy or necessarily very spicy. As an added bonus, I was handed a couple of sips of an Irish whiskey called Greenore, which made for a tasty little detour.
It occurred to me how different life would be if I spent as much time savoring other moments as I have each ounce of whiskey. To be fully present, listening to each flavor and feeling every drop. I think there’s a saying that you shouldn’t look for life’s answers at the bottom of a glass, but now I’m not so sure. I seem to be becoming quite a firm subscriber to the Tao of whiskey.
Now to meet the twins: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 and Evan Williams Single Barrel. And a very distant Irish cousin, Greenore.
I must say, I have been very diligent about my New Year’s challenge to drink 33 new whiskies in less than 30 days. I might need to extend this challenge (99 problems, but a dram ain’t one?).
Today, I ventured into the international, tasting an Irish whiskey next to a bourbon. The Irish whiskey is distinctly different and lighter. It’s as if nothing is added, necessarily, but some of the harsher flavors of the newer world whiskies are taken out.
Irish whiskey seems kindly familiar every time I have it. I wonder if it’s possible with one sip to be transported back to that college spring break I spent in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. I think of dark wood booths and reading, but not necessarily reading in dark wood booths. (In addition to that spring break, I also spent a week at an Irish literature summer school once-less kissing, more James Joyce).
I was actually a little surprised. I think of myself as more a bourbon or Scotch gal, but I when I sat down and listened to these two whiskies, I liked what the Irish had to say. But that's what this is all about - meeting some new friends. I approach whiskey like I approach people. I generally expect to like everybody unless they prove me wrong.
Today’s new friends: Angel’s Share Bourbon and Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey
It’s Day Two of my extremely arduous task of drinking 33 whiskies in less than 30 days (but I will forge ahead, I will), and I’ve noticed a few things:
#1: I really, really want to leave work on time to go drink whiskey. Leaving work on time is usually difficult for me. But this whiskey challenge is to teach and for me to learn.
#2: I realized I might run out of ways to describe whiskey. Each one is different, but not SO different. Then I realized it’s not the whiskey that will be different, it’s me and the surroundings and what kind of day I have had and what I’m pairing it with. Which means this exercise may not teach me anything permanent. I will still forge ahead.
#3: I should probably learn the names of my bartenders or I might become that creepy person sitting alone in a corner staring at two whiskey glasses and talking to myself – or to the whiskey, tough to tell – and making little snappy movements with my tongue trying to figure out if this whiskey reminds me of the time I chewed paper in class or the time I got sand in my potato chips.
But on to my new acquaintances: Old Overholt and Ancient Age. These are two of those classics I feel like I should know – I recognize the bottle, we move in the same circles – but before today, we hadn’t really sat down and spent time together.