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Educational Whisky

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Educational Whisky

Postby zedzedtop » Sun Jun 21, 2015 5:27 pm

I find myself, more often than not these days, buying whisky for its educational possibilities rather than quality or quality for the $$. For me, that means that I'm looking for whisky that is in general as young as possible with little cask character. I prefer to know if the cask is first or later-fill bourbon or sherry. Independent bottlers often put out reasonably priced young spirit from the likes of Bunnahabhain, Highland Park, and Glenrothes. Sometimes you can find age statements as low as five years. I prefer to know the age statement. Sometimes, in the case of Kilchoman for instance, you might do some research and get a pretty good idea that it might be, for instance, four or five years old.

It's very interesting to pick out if the distillery is leaning towards heads or tails notes for character. Glenlivet, for instance, is quite a bright whisky and one can discern heads notes in the younger stuff. On the other hand, Glenfarclas is a slightly bitter and musty spirit when young. I enjoy seeing how the spirit can develop and interact with the cask over time. Certainly one tidbit of note is that tails notes integrate better and faster than heads notes. Not what I would have guessed and it has certainly affected the way I make final cuts - leaning (or at least being a little less scared to lean) more towards the oily/musty/bitter side of things, a less towards the bright and fruity side.

As I run a three-bubbler column and do single passes with wash and feints, the new make is a bit cleaner that most scotch new make. I tend to use auchentoshan as a benchmark for this reason, although it really isn't a favourite whisky of mine. For light whiskies I'm more inclined to enjoy learning from unpeated Bruichladdich.

Another note I'll add is that some independent bottlers lean more towards putting out more spirit-driven bottlings, possibly because they are choosing whisky from second or later fill casks.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby zedzedtop » Mon Jun 22, 2015 1:21 am

I meant to add to the last sentence. A particular IB with those leanings is Duncan Taylor in their dimensions series. Blackadder could be considered quite the opposite, with more unctuous, coating, and sweet bottlings.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby Smaug » Mon Jun 22, 2015 10:03 am

Nice little read and I appreciate your point of view.
In the scheme of things I have only recently started learning how to understand whiskey.

I can't really contribute other than to say thanks. As your post has given me a few things to pay attention to.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby just sayin' » Mon Jun 22, 2015 11:24 am

Well done, Zed! Please keep your thoughts coming.

Octamore 6.1 is a five age statement Bruichladdich, the spirit comes through on that one, but the peat slaps you around a bit (Note: not for anyone without a love of peat)

The McClelland's range are quality young single malts and are a great value.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby Dan P. » Tue Jun 23, 2015 3:46 pm

Thanks for the interesting post, ZZ.
I'm not a patient man, and am only just learning about making "real" cuts, especially when it comes to heads, rather than the "kiddy-cuts" I was making which were a rather bland, sweet hearts cut.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby zedzedtop » Wed Jun 24, 2015 1:43 am

Making cuts, for me, is both the most difficult and most interesting part of performing a distillation. More and more these days I find myself looking for those top and bottom notes when I nose a whisky, or other spirit for that matter. I really wish there were more new make spirits available from distilleries that sell the same stuff properly aged. The Heaven Hill trybox series is great for that. It represents their main grainbills used in so many bourbons produced today. The big bourbon distilleries don't produce that many different new makes, but they go in to hundreds of different finished products. After the new make, it's just the cask, environment, and time. Getting a few bottles that are from the same distillery but different ages/resellers/brands/etc can be a very rewarding experience. Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill both have new makes available.

Certainly many microdistilleries do as well, but a word of caution is advised with these. There simply isn't as good of a comparison to be made as there is with the bigguns. Take a seven year old microdistillery who, if yer lucky, has a three or four year age statement whiskey available. There's just no way the new make you buy today is as the new make was that went into that age statement whiskey. In addition they might have a different process for the white dog as well.

With the bigguns it most certainly IS the same juice. Same with scotch, but there really isn't any new make out there. Glenglassaugh has some and you can buy their few-year-old stuff as a comparison. Don't confuse this with the older Glenglassaugh which isn't the same stuff and quite a bit of $$. I've seen Highland Park bottles of new make but never at a shop or for sale.

Do check out Dave Broom's "The World Atlas of Whisky." He has descriptions of almost all the scotch new makes and there's a lot to be learned by reading them. I certainly did.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby Dan P. » Wed Jun 24, 2015 2:36 pm

There is obviously a difference in the cut one would make between something to be drunk white and new-ish and someting to be aged and oaked, however I found that my peated malt spirit, cut according to the Laphroaig output ABVs from Harry's Islay whisky chart, made a very acceptable white spirit, though I usually cut a little deeper into tails. Perhaps this is why Laphroaig is so popular; it's not a particularly challenging drink? Seems most high/nose notes are coming from the cask, rather than aged heads.
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Re: Educational Whisky

Postby zedzedtop » Thu Jun 25, 2015 3:42 am

That makes sense dan. But I would imagine that the scotch new make releases are indeed identical to what they plan on casking. Ditto with the big bourbon distillers. More likely not with the micros.

The top end notes from casks I'm trying to rationalize/picture. I think certainly the sherry (in particular) or bourbon residuals contribute a great deal to that. In addition, tannic/drying/dusty notes (and I concede here that you don't really smell tannins) I consider top-end and are definitely part of the cask (the wood itself) contribution, in particular European oak.

One bottom line is that there really aren't that many distilleries that release white spirit and have an aged product that supposedly came from an equivalent new make. Especially when you'd want years of consistent product to establish a pedigree, and especially when that aged spirit is considered to be properly aged which is roughly, broadly, six to twelve years for a new charred 53gal ageing American-style whiskey/bourbon to eight to forty years for scotch whisky.

You've done most of what you can do by making the new make and selecting the barrel or other ageing protocol. After that it's just time and some influence from the environment. I'd really like to be confident that some new make xyz that is either vatted in the cut (or still sitting in the fractions in bottles/jars/etc) has the potential to, given the right future conditions, yield spirit with the quality and nuances that the most interesting scotch whiskies have. I believe that it is more than possible for the home producer. It might take a larger barrel (53gal-ish) or some other innovative contraption and might take the equivalent number of years.

It's more than the cut too, as fermentation and distillation parameters cannot be glossed over. However, in my ideal world, once the make is said and done, one should have the ability to gauge future potential. It's frustrating to not have the experience and/or access to the minds and inventories that the industry does. I do get a bit of feedback from the scotch distillers but near zilch from the americans. Would be pretty great to try 0.5, 1, and 2 year old barrelings from a range of distilleries, knowing in particular for the scottish case if the barrels were first or later fill.
'Bubble cap plates are better for batch distillation than perforated plates' - Benjamin Franklin

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