Friday, January 13, 2012

Re-creating some old whisky

A very interesting read!  Scientists reverse-engineered a 100+ year old whiskey and were even able to narrow down where the peat came from.  Fun stuff.

Friday, November 4, 2011

These angels have to lay off the booze

Way back in July 2011 I refilled the single malt cask with some delicious 100% corn spirits from Tuthilltown Spirits.

A few days ago I decided it's had enough and started to bottle it.  I pulled out my trusty Homer lunch box, a funnel and coffee filter and let 'er rip!  The problem was it didn't dripped.

After turning the cask upside-down, this is all that came out!

Those are some seriously thirsty angels.  Not entirely sure where it all went.  I didn't see any leaks so there must have been a slow drip somewhere that evaporated as it leaked.  Le sigh.

It's a damn shame, because the whiskey - now bourbon, I'd say - is delicious.  It's a little hot, but the corn character clearly comes through, followed by caramel sweetness and vanilla picked up from the cask.

Overall the casks were a really fun experiment, and a great conversation piece in the living room.  I'll definitely be playing with them more in the future - possibly with bigger casks and more beer...stay tuned for the excitement!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer's just about over

And I think it's about time we get back on the whisky blog wagon.  The summer was filled with my computer exploding, pool leaking, earthquakes, hurricanes (no, really, in New Jersey) and lots of brewing beer.  Not a whole lot of whisky drinking, unfortunately, but I did start a new tradition in the Man Skirt brewhouse - the Hot Scotchy.

What's a Hot Scotchy, you ask?   It's a drink made from Scotch and hot wort from the brewing process.  It's a lovely way to pass the time while waiting for the wort to boil.  Our first try was with some Glenfiddich.  Pictured here with a glass of our Ginger Ale.

That was nice, but I thought a Scotch with a little more oompf would do well.  So we moved on to the very exciting Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  I think the Laphroaig was a bit overpowering for the drink, especially since that brew had roasted malt in it, adding to the bitterness and roasty character.

Finally, we come to today's brew day.  I wanted another Islay malt, but something a little milder than the Laprhoaig.  I had Bruichladdich in mind, but I recently ran out.  Then I saw it, hiding behind the Yamazaki: Ardmore!

A lovely Islay malt with a nice balance of sweet and peat, the Ardmore made a Hot Scotchy that I couldn't put down, and kept tasting long after it was gone.

So if you're a homebrewer, give the Hot Scotchy a try.  If you know a homebrewer, bring over a bottle and teach them a new drink.  Either way, I think you'll start a new tradition.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's break from barrels and jump a ferry to Islay.

It's been a while since I've done a whisky review.  I think it's about time we visited Islay.  So let's hop on the Islay ferry and start looking around!

Pronounced like the Isla in Island (aye-la, not is-lay), Islay is where many of my favorite distilleries live.  These fully-peated malts run the range of the peat and smoke scale, from the mild Caol Ila and Bruichladdich, to the aggressively peaty Lagavulin and Laphroaig, to the campfire-in-a-glass Ardbeg.

Today we're going to taste a very special offering from Laphroaig - 10 year old cask strength.  As you may remember, "cask strength" means the whisky was bottled without any additional water added.  This it US batch #2, bottled 12/2010 at 56.3% - 112.6 proof.  Most Scotches are bottled at 46% or so.

Beautiful, innit?  Let's give it a nose.  There is no mistaking that peat smell.  It's one of those scents that is hard to describe and must be experienced.  Deep and earthy, with ocean smells mixed in there.  Not as much alcohol heat as I was expecting from a cask strength offering.  There are notes of wood and a bit of smoke in there as well.

And now a taste.  A generous sip right into the middle of my tongue.  Immediately that peat flavor is there, with just a hint of caramel sweetness, followed by a bit of wood and smoke when I breathe through my nose.  A slight medicinal flavor, but not astringent or unpleasant at all.  Then on the finish I get salt, as if I had just gone swimming in the ocean.  In our last podcast, Simon explained that the ocean flavors are related to much of Islay's peat being composed of seaweed.  According to

"Islay is very largely composed of peat. The water on Islay is brown, even the water in the burns is brown, and winter gales drive salt spray far inland, and this saturates the peat, which is dried again by the briny, seaweedy breeze. All these characteristics go into the whiskies of Islay, to a greater or lesser extent."

The cask strength has a velvety mouthfeel.  The flavor is enormous, and each sip brings new tastes to the front.  The flavor lingers on, begging me to reach for the glass and have another sip.  In fact, I think I'll do just that and leave you to it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Those are some thirsty angels!

Last weekend was our yearly Whiskey Tasting event.  In preparation, I decided to bottle the Wasmund's spirits I have been aging.  I took some samples of the rye and single malt to see how they were progressing and bottled off a little of each for the party.

Following the suggestion in the directions, I ran the whiskey through a coffee filter to catch any particulates from the inside of the keg.  I created a high-tech apparatus to raise the barrel high enough to fill the bottles.

I took about a half bottle of each for the party.  They have both picked up beautiful color from the kegs.  Interestingly, the barley has been in the keg a month less but is slightly darker.  In both photos, the rye is on the left.

Both whiskies are delicious, with a fantastic depth of flavor and mouthfeel, even at cask strength.  The rye is spicy, a little sweet, and smooth.  The single malt is still a little rough around the edges, so I'm going to leave that in the keg another month or two.

After the party, I started bottling up the rest of the rye.  Imagine my surprise when the whiskey ran out not even halfway through filling!  This is all I got.  Nothing was leaking, so there must have been some serious evaporation.

Now what to do with a charred oak cask that was recently emptied of its spirit?  You'll just have to wait for the next post to find out...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A very special whiskey podcast

Some very exciting news!  Monday, May 2nd at 8PM EST, Final Gravity Podcast will be doing another whiskey special.  This time we'll be joined live in-studio by Simon Brooking, the ambassador for Laphroaig USA!

We will be tasting the Laphroaig range of whiskies - 10yr, cask strength, Quarter Cask - as well as some you may not be familiar with.

It promises to be a great show, so come by, bring your questions, or just listen and taste along at home with us.  Click here to visit our UStream live video feed.  You can also join us on Skype - user finalgravitypodcast - or call into the studio line at  765-537-8657.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A great day at Tuthilltown Spirits in New York (picture heavy post)

My wife and I spent the weekend in New York's Hudson Valley, with the goal of seeing some old friends and visiting a few wineries in the area.  We visited Robibero Vinyeards, then Whitecliff Vineyard.  We had a lot of fun, and tasted and bought a lot of wine.

At Whitecliff the conversation turned to whiskey.  That's when we learned we were only a few minutes' drive from Tuthilltown Spirits!  I had never toured a distillery before, so we saddled up and headed out.

We pulled into the driveway and were greeted by a nondescript building, the stainless tank and hand-painted sign the only things giving it away as part of the distillery.

The urge to climb on the tank was almost irresistible, but somehow I managed to control myself.  The sightglass on the side of the tank was a familiar sight from homebrewing.

The first thing we saw when we went inside were mountains of little barrels.  It turns out their main office doubles as the aging room.  These are "baby" barrels, which is where their Baby Bourbon gets its name.  You can also purchase used barrels from them, since by law bourbon may only be called bourbon if it is matured in first-use casks. 

They use the baby barrels because the whiskey matures faster in them - more surface area in contact with the spirit.  I believe our guide mentioned 3 months per gallon.

They also have 1- and 2-liter casks for sale, similar to the ones I already have.

In addition to the various whiskies, bottles, t-shirts and whatnot, they had a neat old copper still on one of the tables.

By now we were chomping at the bit to take the tour!  I thought the tour guide was a little unusual, but maybe they do things differently up there.  We signed up for the tour and tasting, then headed outside to see the distillery, which lives in the barn across the driveway.

Our guide started with a history of the distillery, explaining that they are the first distillery in NY since Prohibition.  That's why their bottles are shaped like apothecary's medicine bottles - during Prohibition, distillers would market their product as medicine, which was legal for sale.

He went on to explain the various bits of equipment they're using, and how much of it was re-purposed from things they found on the farm when they got there.  This is the malt mill they use to grind the grist (grain).

After grinding, the grist is fed into this vessel, which I would call a "mash tun".  It's where the grist is mixed with hot water to convert the starches into sugars that the yeast can eat.  There's all sorts of enzymatic magic going on in there.

He explained the "iodine test" to us, which they use to ensure that the conversion is complete.

Then that liquid and the grain are moved for cooling with this grain pump.  I'm not sure if the liquid is called "wash" at this point or after fermentation.  I found it interesting that the grain is included, and not lautered (separated) as we do in beer making.  Our guide explained that as such a small batch producer, they don't have to worry about burning the grain during distillation like a big producer might.  They also like the flavor profile.

The liquid and grain are moved into this vessel, a re-purposed milk cooler!  Here the mixture cools down to the proper temperature to pitch the yeast.

After that the mixture is pumped into the fermentation room.

The smell of 8 open tanks of fermenting corn mash is delicious and hard to describe.  Our guide explained how the tank on the right is still actively fermenting, with the CO2 being produced by the yeast pushing the corn to the top to make the dark "cap" you can see.

The tank on the left is done fermenting, so the corn has settled to the bottom.

We were invited up onto the step stool to get our noses right up into the tank.  My friend Dan described the smell as if you made corn bread with yeast.

We could see the CO2 "boiling" up out of solution.  It looked like a coarse porridge.

Then it was time to see where distilling really breaks off from brewing.  We headed up the wooden stairs to the stills.  Rounding a corner, their shiny new still loomed large.

Our guide explained that due to demand they just had to install a still twice the size of their old ones.  It required building the extension to the roof you can see in the picture and was just completed a week before we arrived.

This is the view looking towards the old stills.  I really love how such beautiful, elegant equipment is still so utilitarian and almost humble, boiling and condensing liquids and gases.

Our guide explained the entire distillation process, much of which I've already forgotten, of course.  He was very entertaining and took the time to answer all of our questions.

He explained how the whiskey is distilled twice, first in this still and second in the still behind him.

The distiller uses a hydrometer and his palate to determine when the whiskey is ready for the various steps it goes through.

This doodad with all the portholes is used to cause the different alcohols that boil at different temperatures to condense so they can be separated from one another.

He explained how the first alcohols that come out are the "heads".  It's basically wood alcohol, or acetone.  They do not use that at all.

Next come the "hearts".  That's the good ethanol they want for their whiskey.  This is taken off into stainless drums to later be put into oak casks.

The last are the "tails".  The tails are not used in the final distillation, but are saved in the wicker-covered demijohns in the last picture.  They then add some of the tails to the next batch, which helps flavor the batch and extracts some more of the good alcohols left.

Speaking of good alcohols, he opened a drum of recently-distilled spirit for us to smell.  The alcohol odor was overwhelming, but when I smelled with an open mouth I could taste the whiskey.  It was a really cool experience.

One more shot of the new still setup.  Shiny!

Then finally it was time to taste!  The tour comes with a tasting of any 3 of their offerings - which include a rum and two vodkas!

As I have already had their Manhattan Rye, I opted to taste the two bourbons - Baby Bourbon and 4-Grain Bourbon - and the single malt.  The 4-grain is made from 51% corn, with the rest being barley, wheat and rye.

As you can see, the selections were delicious, and more than one followed me home.  They also had a bourbon-cask-aged maple syrup, which was out of this world and found its way into my bag.

I will be aging the clear corn whiskey in one of my barrels.  I haven't decided if it'll go into the rye or barley yet.

With Tuthilltown less than two hours' drive from my home, I see more visits in my future.  We had a great time and I would even do the tour again.  I look forward to seeing the changes in the distillery as they grow, which they are doing fast!