Kevin brought me a bottle of amber fluid… it was in a small glass bottle labeled “Blue Ice Organic Wheat American Vodka”… I’m not a fan of vodka… I have never seen honey-hued vodka. Kevin had put a yellow sticky note on the bottle… “Expert analysis requested (no, it isn’t vodka)”… whew… not vodka, just an old tiny vodka bottle… nasty sounding vodka. Like Alice… I followed the instructions and took a sip. I did not shrink… I entered no door at the bottom of a rabbit hole, but I did taste a mild and enjoyable bourbon… not overly spicy or strong… no significant bite, no bad aftertaste. It wasn’t spectacular, but definitely not the type of bourbon that I would spit back into a glass… but let’s be honest… I have never spit ANY bourbon back into a glass. I am a true believer in the saying “there is no such thing as bad bourbon, just some bourbons are better than others.”
Kevin assumes I am a bourbon expert… I prefer the term “bourbon drinker”… a bourbon drinker since the days of my teenage years. I am no advocate of teenage drinking… but I know I was no stranger to alcohol in high school. My bourbon drinking in high school was limited to mixing a fifth of Jim Beam with a two-liter bottle of SunDrop… Lake Water… this was how I entered the bourbon drinking world. Not exactly fine-drinking skills… but definitely the way I learned that the sweetness of bourbon is truly one of the greatest things distilling has brought man.
As a teen, I felt beer tasted poorly… I had not, like a lot of teens, developed a taste or stomach for beer. It would take less than a semester of college to develop that ability… yet bourbon has always been the drink of choice… since 1986, this bourbon and drink of choice has expanded to whiskeys in general. I have consumed Irish whisky in Ireland, English and Scotch whiskeys in the United Kingdom… I have consumed nasty-ass Canadian whiskey with Canadians… I have consumed sweet and smooth Tennessee sippin’ whisky… none of them were ever spit out… some of them, however, weren’t good enough to order a second glass. For my 40th birthday, I received the gift of the bourbon of the month club… surprisingly my favorite monthly bourbon was a small-batch from Massachusetts… who knew you could get decent bourbon from Massachusetts… obviously it was not labeled “Kentucky Bourbon” but it was a nice bourbon. I am not a drunk, I am not an alcoholic… I have discerning tastes… I know what I like and I am capable of comparing one whiskey to the next… I have hosted bourbon-tasting parties. If you don’t drink bourbon or whisky… you are probably wondering why I keep using the different terms of “bourbon” and “whisky” almost interchangeably.
All Bourbons are Whisky; Not All whiskeys Are Bourbon
Whisky is a type of distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different types of whisky and include barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. Whisky is aged in wooden casks (barrels), typically charred white oak casks. American whiskeys include:
- Bourbon, which is made from 51% or greater corn mash;
- Corn whisky, which is made from 81% or greater corn mash;
- Malt whisky, which is made from 51% or greater malted barley mash;
- Rye whisky, which is made from 51% or greater rye mash
- Rye malt whisky, which is made from 51% or greater malted rye mash; and
- Wheat whisky, which is made from 51% or greater wheat.
You can blend whisky types… thus blended whisky. Interestingly, Tennessee whisky such as Jack Daniels and George Dickel are considered bourbon by the North American Free Trade Amendment (NAFTA) and other international trade agreements even though the manufacturers of these brands do not advertise these whiskeys as bourbon.
Other whisky-producing countries include:
- Australia (never had any),
- Canada (tried some, never impressed),
- England (some good, some bad),
- Finland (never had any),
- Germany (some were borderline okay),
- India (tried one and seemed more like rum than whisky),
- Denmark (never had any),
- Ireland (love almost all Irish whiskeys… interestingly most Irish whiskeys are aged in used American whisky casks, thus the reason why Irish whiskeys look less dark than American ones),
- Japan (never tried, but did get my hands on a bottle of American small-batch bourbon specifically made to sell in Japan… pure liquid heaven… the Japanese have fantastic taste in whisky and willing to pay for it),
- New Zealand (never tried),
- Scotland (had quite a few, mainly Scotch… and have found the Scotch I like the most is very aged and thus very expensive… I don’t drink a lot of Scotch for this reason),
- Sweden (never tried),
- Wales (tried one and quite tasty), and
- Czech Republic (distilled in 2010… hoping to try it one day… in the Czech Republic).
Basically, whisky is distilled grain alcohol that is aged in wooden barrels, the charring of the insides of the barrel give the distinctive coloring of whisky and adds sugars and flavors. Bourbon, as you can see is a type of whisky, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. My forefathers made bourbon as they hacked their way across the South… when you drink whisky, generally, and bourbon, specifically, you are drinking a part of American history.
Kevin’s Bourbon in a Vodka Bottle
Kevin had led the way toward my new adventure. Kevin had taken some cheap and disgusting bourbon and put it in Wasmund’s Barrel… The Copper Fox Distillery sells these mini charred oak barrels, accompanied by either bottles of rye whisky spirits or single malt whisky spirits. Kevin aged this gross bourbon and then provided me with the taste… I have to take his word on the nastiness of the original bourbon… Kevin has a lot of experience in tasting and reviewing alcohol… so I took his word for it… Kevin has written a book on the history of whisky. I may disagree with him on some of his views on the books we read for our book club… but I trust his opinion on alcohol. So, magically… scientifically… Kevin had transformed a nasty whisky into a sip-able bourbon… I was intrigued.
The Great Whiskey Experiment
I received two bottles of single malt spirits and the mini barrel.
*please note the sliver of the green label on the aged Jim Beam Choice Bourbon bottle on the left side of this picture… it really is good too… heavy yet smooth Jim Beam, maybe a bit more spicy… more of a cold-weather bourbon if you ask me.
I was overjoyed. I was happy… I was given a new toy… I love toys. The instructions were simple… pour water in and on the mini barrel… allow the oak slats to expand and confirm the seal… empty water… pour in single malt spirits… age 4-7 months… drink whisky. Yes… this is a science experiment I can perform… my pouring and emptying skills have been perfected over the past 41 years. Essentially, this is a skill that I perfected around age 4… that is an estimate… and pouring and emptying containers of alcohol is one that I perfected around 16. Yes sir… I too can join the ranks of Jack, Jim, George, Elijah, and all the other men who have made a life in making whisky.
Okay… I’m really not making whisky… what I am doing is finishing what others have started. I am doing nothing more than aging distilled alcoholic spirits… but still I was going to be part of the process… I am going to get to taste this wonderful elixir from the spirits stage… yes I am going to open those bottles and take a sip… I hope I don’t lose my eyesight… then I am going to taste this “whisky” periodically as it ages. Supposedly, around month 4, I will have actual drinkable whisky. If I was a betting man, I bet that this whisky will age exactly how long it takes after 4 months for me to drink the barrel dry… so let’s say my first batch of whisky is going to be exactly 4.5 months old. After that I am free to purchase more spirits from Copper Fox Distillery, or I can buy some pure grain alcohol (PGA baby!) and age it… or I can buy some nasty-ass whisky… plastic bottle whisky… I-have-never-fucking-heard-of-that-whisky brand whisky… and age it. Hopefully, I will be as successful as Kevin was. Yes sir, this is the type of science I can sink my lips, tongue, throat, stomach into… this is the type of science I should have been taught at an earlier age.
I tried brewing beer… to time consuming… not my first alcoholic love… too scientific. But aging whisky? This is something I can do. I will, naturally, be updating this blog with reports on how this scientific experiment is going… because, of course, I am doing this in the name of science.