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.
What I knew: Malted whiskey flavored with hops, 92 proof
What I learned: To start off, I love Corsair’s bottles and their bad-ass Quentin Tarintino-esque labels. One whiff of this one, though, and I smelled trouble. That’s because it didn’t smell like whiskey. More specifically it kind of smelled like beer (thanks to the hops), and I do not like beer. But I figured, if it was possible for me to like beer, it would probably be in whiskey form.
It was surprisingly sweet compared to the smell and only had a hint of beer aftertaste. It reminded me of a barn, and as I drank, the wood smell came forward. I know it’s impossible to smell like a flannel shirt, but this one smelled to me like the idea of a flannel shirt. I liked it, I think. But I have to say, the hops really tripped me up. I felt like a mouse trying to get to the whiskey cheese, but I kept getting distracted by the smell of something else that was pulling me down the wrong path. I would call this one the friend of a friend that you meet at a bar that you don’t quite trust. “You seem ok, but what did you do with Charlie?”
What I knew: California whiskey, 100% Bavarian hard wheat, double distilled, 88 proof, aged two years in small oak barrels
What I discovered:
This one was different in an entirely new way. It also didn’t have a typical nose. It smelled like yellow cake and tasted like honey. It had a tiny bit of a bite, but in a cute way, like a kitten. For a young whiskey, it was soft. Still, it seemed fully developed. As a big fan of wheat whiskies, I don’t know that I would pit this against others I like, such as Bernheim and Parkers, but I appreciated what it was doing on its own. I don’t think it’s intended to be like those other whiskies. This one is more gentle.
And then there was my old fling, Buffalo Trace. Fall back date for quite a few parties. I don’t know–I tasted that against my new friends, and I liked how whiskey-ish it was. I won’t argue for a “typical” whiskey taste because I think whiskey, even traditionally made, can fall across a wide spectrum of flavors. But there’s something about settling into that familiar whiskey hug that I enjoy. We didn’t do a lot of whiskey tasting in Girl Scouts – I totally would have nailed that badge – but we did have a song that seems relevant: Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, and the other gold.