the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Monday, February 25, 2008

Turn, Turn, Turn

Sorry I didn't get this posted yesterday as planned, folks. I ended up working for most of the weekend, so had little time for fun stuff like sampling whisky. Always a pity when work interferes with beverages, in my humble opinion.

Anyhow, we have now come full circle. Literally, in fact. The cask has been rotated four times, meaning it's now right-side-up again, and as happy as ever. Here's what I'm looking at after one solid month of maturational goodness:

[click on the photo to embiggen it]

As I figured, the whisky hasn't changed any further in colour. I guess the cask has added all the dark red-orange-amber tint it will. I'm just fine with that. I've seen some darker whiskies (including one that's insanely ruby red, nearly like a wine) and some lighter ones, and the colour isn't a perfect predictor of how delicious a dram one has in one's hand.

As for the nose, it's really developing a lot more sweetness. Think brown sugar melted over plums served on an oak plank heated over an open flame. It's very sweet on the nose right now. I had noticed brown sugar on the nose last time, but it's more in-your-face now. In comparison, the un-aged whisky really seems pretty insipid. Other than the fierce alcoholic smell, the young whisky smells mildly malty and smoky, but really, really watered down. The maturing spirit is really adding layers upon layers of nosey complexity. Swirling it more vigorously around the glass frees up smoked malt and vanilla, butter and salt.

On the palate, we have a spicy start that lingers, with dried apricot and raisin and oak coming through a moment later, served over a gentle smokiness. There's vanilla and cinnamon. Some tannins, though not overwhelmingly many. The finish is malt and smoke, though not hitting-you-over-the-head smoke, with the spice still lingering. As I've noted before, the fruit seems to be far more highly concentrated in the nose than in the palate. The caramel on the finish isn't as prevalent as it was last week, but it's still there. The finish is long. Quite long.

I'm very happy with how it's coming along, but it's still going to need a few more weeks, I think. The taste is nice, but it's still a bit on the unintegrated side. The spice or heat from the alcohol is still a bit much right now, but the other flavours are slowly chipping away at it.

It's getting there, but it's not quite there yet.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Show and Tell

A little while ago I got a letter from Alex in Vancouver. He excitedly reported that the cask he'd ordered from the Thousand Oaks Barrel Company had finally arrived. I thought it would be interesting to compare Alex's cask to the one that I got in the Whisky Works kit by Premium Bottlers. Alex kindly sent in a handful of photos, some of which I've posted here so we can all have a look.

And there it is! Apparently it's available with a few different colours for the metal hoops. Alex selected black. Mine has plain steel hoops, and I wasn't offered a choice (not that I am the type of person who cares about the colour of metal hoops as long as the kit works).

Everything seems to be the same shape as the kit that I received. The stand might be a bit different, but everything else looks precisely the same, even the material of the rubbery bit of the bung.

The biggest difference is that my cask is unadulterated wood, while Alex's barrel - and apparently the spigot and bung - are covered in a thick, shiny varnish. It gives his cask a nice warm colour, but neither of us knows what the effect of the varnish will be on the spirit. I'm going to guess that it will have a negligible effect, but one can never tell.

Finally, Alex also chose to treat the cask with sherry to start, rather than just going for whisky right away. His sherry of choice: Harvey's Bristol Cream. I had a shot of this about ten years ago in a university bar in the UK, but I can't dig up a memory of what it tastes like from the cobwebby recesses of my mind. As long as it does good things to the whisky, we'll all be happy.

It's interesting that the kits are essentially identical other than the varnish. Either Premium Bottlers is getting their barrels from Thousand Oaks as well, but ordering them without varnish, or every little cask produced by any cooper will look basically the same. Come to think of it, that's pretty darned likely.

Thanks to Alex for sharing the photos of the cask. Good luck with the whisky!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wellington Street Cellar

Since I haven't described the conditions under which I'm doing the maturation, I figured I may as well. Sadly, they're about as far from a quaint warehouse tucked into a bay by the ocean, gently swept with breezes tangy with sea-salt as one can get.

The cask is sitting on a side table in amongst my house plants. If you're the type who needs more detail than that, it's beside a Norfolk Island pine, some kind of palm I can't identify, a coffee tree (too young to produce beans yet, unfortunately) and a papyrus. If you're not the type who needs more detail, then sorry you had to read all that. The temperature in my living room will range from about 15 to 22 degrees Celsius, depending on the outside weather and what I've been doing with my thermostat recently.

One thing definitely worth mentioning is that I have set up a small humidifier right in front of the table upon which the cask has been living. For those who don't know, Ottawa is a city which gets long, cold winters, and it's the middle of winter as I write this. We have had several feet of snow so far this year, and there's always more on the way. We've just come out of a lovely storm that saw a bunch of snow, then freezing rain, then regular rain, then more freezing rain. One day in December we got 40cm of snow. We reached that same amount on a couple days in late January and early February. On a walk through my neighbourhood a couple nights ago, many driveways had snowbanks beside them that were taller than me.

Temperatures this winter have reached well into the -20's Celsius on more than a few occasions, and seem to hover around the -10 to -20 range at night. During the days it's warmer of course, but sometimes not by much. It actually managed to pop above 0 degrees today on account of a freakish weather system from somewhere down south, but they're calling for -21 Celsius by Thursday.

In short, we're a darned cold, wintery place right now.

With the winter weather, the air gets ridiculously dry here. I suspect readers from other northerly climes will understand. The humidity is so low that were I to leave a glass of water unattended for a day or two, it would evaporate. With the humidifier running, it's a lot better, but I still find myself pouring 1 - 1.5 litres of water on my papyrus every other day.

The dryness worried me quite a bit, since the cask, while watertight, is not completely hermetically sealed. Outside air gets in, inside air gets out, and the liquid inside evaporates. It's a much slower evaporation, but it is unstoppable. That's why I've got the cask sitting just about right on top of the humidifier: it is getting gently caressed by a moist breeze at all times. Hopefully this will keep the angels from taking too large a share.

In spite of the humidifier, I have noticed some effects caused, I think, by the dry air. First, every time I rotate the cask, there's a bit of spirit which leaks out around the edges of the staves against the lids, and around the bung. Don't worry - it's a matter of a few drops so the overall effect will be negligible, but it's interesting to see that the cask dries out just a little bit every week, and when it's rotated to expose the slightly dry bit to the whisky, a little leaks out every time until the wood swells again.

Maybe that would not have been the case if I'd conditioned the cask with water for an extra day or two, but perhaps not. Maybe I should be dabbing a wet sponge on the outside of the cask every day. Who knows? In any case, it's nothing to worry about so far.

I am curious, though, how different the final product would be if I lived anywhere near an ocean...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Garth Brooks and I Have Nothing in Common

It's true.

I have friends in high places. :-)

A tip of the hat today to my buddy who, among other things, makes hard cider from time to time. And beer. Maybe wine, too. I can't remember. In any case, he has far too much alcohol-related equipment just sitting around his place, so he's kindly loaned me a hydrometer with which I might be able to figure out how much of the alcohol has evaporated when I determine the maturation of the whisky has reached its end. Mind you, I think this hydrometer is for beverages of lower alcohol content than whisky: if I'm reading it correctly, it would seem its maximum reading is about 20%. Mind you, I have no idea what I'm doing, so I'll figure it out and let you know.

This is the same friend who had promised me a couple 1-litre bottles of home-made cider, and I'm happy to say they're in my possession as we speak, tucked carefully away behind a bottle of wine and some scotch, lest I be tempted to drink them at an inappropriately early occasion. These two bottles will be freeze-fractioned and converted into applejack, which I'll then mature in the cask to see what happens.

I still haven't been able to determine what exactly I can expect from the spirit I'll produce from the cider. Currently, each bottle has been individually fermented, so each will taste slightly different. It also means that the bottles have lees at the bottom. I'm tempted to filter them before freezing, or at least before casking, but this makes me wonder if a lot of the flavour will be lost as well. With the other bottles we've opened, more lees has meant a stronger apple flavour. I guess my course of action will depend on whether the lees gets trapped in the ice or remains in the alcoholic portion during freeze fractioning. I'll do an experiment and see what shakes, then pass on the results to you folks.

If anyone has any experience with applejack, I'd love to hear about it.



A Nose by Any Other Name...

Sorry for the cheesy title. I'm running out of creative ways to incorporate the word "nose" into post titles. I'll do better next time, I promise.

After only three weeks in a cask, the Whisky Works whisky has a truly delightful, rich nose. The overpowering alcohol smell is continuing to fade and integrate with the other parts of the bouquet. I'm getting butter, plum, cherry and vanilla at the moment, with a strong underlay of oak. When I return my nose to the unaged spirit, it seems harsh and limp in comparison. Grainy and malty. The slight vinegar scent is there still. The oaked whisky develops chocolate, and a very nice buttery vanilla in comparison. The fruit's there of course, but it's the butter and vanilla more than anything that distinguish it from its former self.

I decided to do a nose-off with the other whiskies in my collection, and the results are very promising.

Johnnie Walker Green doesn't hold up well against the Whisky Works after only three weeks in the cask. It starts to exhibit some of the same sour maltiness as the unaged Whisky Works whisky, though has a bit of fruit still. The whisky from my cask has far more depth, a deeper cooked-fruit nose, and is quite a bit mellower. It's a far sweeter dram than Johnnie Walker Green now.

Ballantine's Finest (a 375ml bottle I forgot I owned, and I can't recall buying) smells sweet, but very much like something you'd pour over chips at a pub. Weirdly, though, there's a hint of chocolate here, too. Overall, though, it's alcoholic and malty more than anything. The casked whisky again exhibits more of a rich sweetness, and less tartness. Butterscotch.

Talisker 10 holds its own, which shouldn't surprise anyone. It has a pungent medicinal tang, and the saltiness in its nose really makes the vanilla in the Whisky Works whisky stand out more than anything else. This is the first comparison where one is not noticeably far superior to the other in terms of nose. They're quite dissimilar, but both are pleasant in different ways.

Against Oban 14, things get more interesting. The fruit in the Whisky Works stands out more, but the butterscotch underpinnings are still apparent. The Oban exhibits a nice biscuity smell, kind of reminiscent of oatmeal cookies. There's a lot more vanilla in the Whisky Works at this point, and it's sweeter on the nose overall than the Oban, but the Oban really holds its own with the biscuity smoky sweetness that's hard to describe. Both are very, very nice.

On the tongue, very nice things are happening. Very nice things. It's very rich and robust. It starts off with sweet cooked fruit, then oak, a hint of smoke, spiciness, then brown sugar into a spicy finish that fades to caramel. I had noticed some bitterness the last time, probably the tannins overwhelming some of the other flavours. I'm very happy to report that that's been well taken care of. The alcoholic taste is still quite strong - I'd want to add a splash of water before enjoying this one at the moment, but it's really moving in the right direction. I find it interesting that the vanilla and butter in the nose aren't nearly as strong in the taste. The sweetness on the tongue is fruity, not vanilla-ish right now. The vanilla is there, but it's deep down in the flavour profile. I expect as it absorbs more vanillins from the cask that will continue to change.

It's interesting to compare my descriptions from week 1 and 2. The changes are quite dramatic from sample to sample, which jives with what Barry Stein had suggested would happen - rapid changes in the first few weeks, then a gradual slow down.

Until next time,


The Third Time's a Charm

[click the photo to embiggen it]

So, what do you think? Looks pretty good in my opinion. Remember how I'd previously mentioned that the colour looked washed out or watered down? I wouldn't say so any longer. It's achieved a rich, dense, saturated dark amber colour now that's quite nice.

Like last week, I wanted to see how it looked against my other whiskies, so here's a photo:

[click the photo to embiggen it]

From left to right, they are Talisker 10, Johnnie Walker Green, Whisky Works after 3 weeks in the cask, Whisky Works unaged and Oban 14. It's close in colour to all of the other whiskies, but is most like Johnnie Walker. The colour itself has not changed much from the last trial, but it is denser. I don't expect there will be much change next time.

Observant readers will notice that the Highland Park 12 which has graced our presence a few times in the past is no longer featured in the above photograph. I'm sad to say it's no longer with us, having been polished off the other night over a good book ("Absolution" by Caro Ramsay) and fantastic music ("Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis). Personally, I can't think of a better way to finish off a bottle.

But you're probably less interested in my drinking habits than in the description of the nose and palate of the whisky, so read on!



Friday, February 15, 2008

I Want to Be a Part of It

I have a very good friend in New York City who can be a bit of an endearing pest from time to time. Every few months, I get a message along the lines of "why haven't you come to visit me yet?" It's not because I dislike her at all; rather, in my line of work I have either not enough free time (but plenty of money) or not enough money (but oodles of free time).

But I'm going to bite the bullet and actually schedule a trip to the Big Apple. My friend will get some quality Ian time, and I'll be able to explore a city I quite like but haven't seen in ages. And I'll also be exploring the liquor stores. I have a suspicion that I'll be able to find several things in NYC that I couldn't get here in Ottawa, and more choice is always a good thing, if you ask me. I'm specifically going to keep an eye out for young cask-strength whisky. Here's hoping I can get my paws on something.

Oh, and in other news, I have secured two litres of home-made hard cider with apples supplied by a local farmer. The cider was made by a buddy of mine, and he's graciously giving me some to see if I can transmogrify it into applejack. Depending on the timing of my trip to New York, I might do a quick batch of applejack, then return to do a batch of whisky, or the other way around.

I'm not really sure if applejack in a cask after sherry and whisky will be a good idea or not, but I like to live dangerously.

I'll keep you posted.



Sunday, February 10, 2008

A New Taste Sensation

This is Part Three of the second week's discussion. You can read Part One here, and Part Two here.

The taste of the whisky is again unrecognisable in comparison to its un-aged self, and dramatically different from the flavour of the whisky after one week as well. Last time we had a spicy start, with a long, oaky finish. The fruit and honey evident in the nose was buried very deeply in the taste. This time around, the predominance of the alcohol has continued to subside, though the spiciness I found in week one is also not as strong. I'm noticing the oak come through very early in the taste now, rather than dominating only the finish. The finish has a saltier tang than last time as well, which is interested and unexpected, given that I have no idea where the salt is coming from: the cask is sitting beside some houseplants and a speaker, miles from salty sea air.

Another thing I find surprising is that the whisky is not as sweet as I'd expected. In fact, there are significant bitter aspects in its taste. The tannins are starting to rear their heads in a dramatic fashion. This isn't unexpected, I guess, when I think about it, but to find them so strong in week two while not apparent at all earlier on is of note. There's a definite hint of dark chocolate and unsweetened vanilla.

Given the dramatic changes in flavour from the beginning through the first two trials, I can confidently predict that I have no idea whatsoever what the whisky will be like after week three. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Until then,



This is Part Two of the second week's commentary. You can read Part One here.

Last weekend, after nearly burning away my ability to smell anything by taking a big whiff of the immature spirit, I noticed that the whisky in the cask made the immature whisky seem like it was lacking something. The smell of the young spirit had holes in it, as if there should have been more to it, but there wasn't. The ageing spirit, on the other hand, was moving towards caramel and fruit. The medicinal nose to the young spirit was gone, but in general the nose of the casked whisky was complementing, rather than replacing the bouquet of the younger spirit.

This has continued unabated. The whisky in the cask presently has a fruited, smoky odour which is quite pleasant. It's also a lot less in-your-face. The strong alcohol predominance is becoming further subsumed into the rest of the bouquet, meaning that the smells of wood and char from the cask and fruit from the sherry are really starting to come through more strongly. It's very butterscotchy as well, interestingly enough. It's a rich sweetness, with plum, raisin, gateau breton, wine, a hint of vanilla, and a lot of oak. It starts with the oak and moves through the fruit before ending with the butterscotch. It's beginning to smell very, very nice.

One contrast of note that wasn't apparent the last time is something which hearkens back to comparing the immature whisky with the Oban 14 and the Talisker 10 several weeks ago. Remember how I said these ones brought out a strong malt vinegar nose in the young whisky? The Whisky Works whisky after being in the cask only two weeks is doing the same thing: the sugars are such that the same malt vinegar scent is quite noticeable in the original now. I take this as a very good sign, since Talisker and Oban are two of my favourites. If the Whisky Works Whisky is entering the territory that those whiskies share, then I'll be very happy with the result.

I could keep my nose in the glass all day and be a happy, if peculiar-looking, man.

On to Part Three!

A Second Look

Sorry for the lag time, folks. I got distracted yesterday, then ran out of time to get the posting finished.

So it's been another week, the whisky has been happily doing its thing in the cask, and the time has come for a peek under the hood to see how things are going. And here we go:

[click to embiggen the photo]

The change in colour is far subtler this time around than last, though it's noticeable, at least in person. Remember last time how I mentioned that it looked sort of washed out? That's changed. The density of the colour is higher. It's not really oranger or browner or anything; it lost looks less watered down in the colour department. The difference is quite subtle, though.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the whisky probably won't change too much more in terms of colour over the remaining weeks. The sherry, remember, changed scarcely at all, and the whisky's now a nice, dark shade of orange. I don't know that the cask can impart any further colour transformation, but I guess we'll see.

I thought it would be interesting to have a quick comparison against the other bottles I keep lying around, so here is a photo of the (slightly out of place in this photo, but hey, it's good enough for our purposes to leave it in a glass, right?) whisky against, from left to right, a Talisker 10, a Highland Park 12, an Oban 14 and a Johnnie Walker Green. Observant readers will notice that the colour is a little different than the previous photo. In my rush, and subsequent failure, to get everything done last evening, I forgot to take the photo of all the whiskies together, so had to do a shoot in the light of the morning. Sorry about that. I guess this is what I get for watching TV again.

[click to embiggen the photo]

Although there's scarcely any Highland Park left in its bottle, it's the closest to the Whisky Works whisky in my collection. All the others are clearly a bit on the darker side, though I can't predict how much of that is a factor of being photographed in a bottle rather than in a glass. At the end, there will be a nice line up of the usual suspects for a better comparison.

But in the mean time, I have to talk about the nose and the palate. And buy more Highland Park, apparently.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Another Option

So, I've been planning on zipping across the border to Québec to grab a bottle of Lagavulin 16 for a couple of weeks, but I've been busy, or lazy, or both. It's one of the benefits of living in Ottawa: I just have to walk across a bridge and POOF - I have to remember how to speak French. The advantage of this proximity is that, for whatever reason, prices for many things, including whisky, are really inconsistent between the provinces. It's not always that alcohol is always cheaper in Québec, but it certainly is true some of the time.

My reason for running the border in this instance was that Lagavulin 16 was $22 dollars cheaper in Gatineau, the city right across the border from me.

Notice that I wrote "was" in that sentence. Not "is." When I checked the website of the Société des alcools du Québec this afternoon, I was chagrined to discover that the price has rocketed up to $89 from $78. Now it's only $11 cheaper than here! Curse my laziness!

This trend has been happening elsewhere: I see that Lagavulin has increased in price in the USA as well, and here in Ontario. It still seems cheap in New Brunswick, but that's a bit far for me to go just to save $25 on a bottle of whisky. Does anyone know why this increase is happening? I'd love to know.

The upshot is that I discovered that the SAQ has a cask-strength Lagavulin for $94. Although it's already 12 years old, I'm tempted to buy it and give it a shot in my little cask. Maybe leave it in for a few weeks to take it up to the level of a 16-year-old, which is one of my faves. I'm under no illusions: ageing here in my living room won't produce the same scotch as as Lag 16 purchased in the stores, but it might be worth a shot in any case.

So: a $94 experiment? Am I crazy?

Only another day or so until the second test of the Whisky Works spirit. It will have been two weeks, and with the dramatic changes we witnessed last week, I'm waiting with bated breath already.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Tasteful Discussion

Weirdly enough, 20-ish posts into this blog, I haven't actually tried any of the whisky yet. I've wanted to wait to compare the immature spirit to the casked stuff, rather than just drink it on its own. So here's the scoop:

The unmatured whisky is very tingly. The alcohol is strong in this one, that's for sure. It has a strong warming burn on its way down. Not shocking for a cask strength without added water. The taste is uncomplicated: alcohol, a bit of smoke, a bit of fruity sweetness and just a hint of peat. The finish is longer than I would have expected for such a young whisky, but is more about mouth feel than taste: the mouth remains warm, tingly and coated long after the flavour subsides. The smoke lasts longer than anything other than the alcohol.

The matured spirit is a different beast entirely. Right away, there's a spiciness instead of just the hit of alcohol. It fades into a pleasant smoky finish, where the oak really comes through. I'm a bit shocked to report that the sweet honey-butterscotch-fruit sensation that comes through on the nose is really buried deeply in the flavour at this point. I still find all of these qualities in the taste, but the sweetness is tending toward mild vanilla with a dash of cinnamon.

It's still a bit harsh on the palate. But remember: it's still likely to be high in alcohol after only a week in the cask. After several weeks, when the alcohol has evaporated and the oak has continued to add goodness, I expect it to be very mellow.

One thing I notice as lacking, but not in a bad way, is the charcoal. Remember the sherry? when I sampled it after five days, it was like someone had dropped a charcoal briquette into my glass and poured sherry all over it. I don't get this sensation at all with the whisky. The smoke is there, but it's smoke, not just plain carbon. I wonder if the stronger alcohol taste is masking the charcoalishness, or if the cask has mellowed somewhat with the sherry it held.

So far, the whisky is coming along nicely: there's a lot more character and complexity in the nose and the taste. It bodes very well for the coming weeks.

Until next time,


One Out of One Noses Agree: Delicious

When most things are poured into a glass, it's easier to get an idea of how they smell. You can swirl them around, expose them to more air, allow them to breathe. Bottles are sub-optimal for sampling the bouquet of a spirit.

This is why I'm going to describe the nose of the unmatured whisky to you again. I have done an extensive comparison against my other whiskies, but this time, it's in a glass, so I'll get a better handle on it.

Depending on what I've been doing with my nose, of course, different things will leap out at me. When I first poured it, a wave of alcoholic burn crawled out of the glass and attacked my nose with what felt like brass knuckles. Now that it's breathed a bit and my nose has recovered, there is a lot more going on. The alcohol is still the strongest smell, but there's a good amount of smoke and a medicinal hint as well. Overlaid is a general sweetness less strong than the alcohol, but stronger than the smoke or peat, though the smoke seems to come in waves.

Generally, and unsurprisingly, it smells young and immature, just as it should, since it is both of these things. Not unpleasant, just young.

The whisky that's been in the cask has turned into something else entirely. I don't think I can adequately describe the utter difference in these two spirits, but if I hadn't been told they were from the same bottle, I'd not have believed it.

The predominant bouquet is of caramelized sugar and fruit. The sherry has done its thing. The strong alcohol smell is still there, but it takes a back seat to the sweetness. A quick intake of breath through the nose reveals the potency of the alcohol, but a gentle inhalation brings plums, butterscotch, pepper, smoke and honey. I don't smell the vague medicinal odour present in the un-aged spirit at all.

If, after getting a noseful of the maturing spirit, I return quickly to the un-aged glass, I notice something immediately: a distinct lack. It's as if the matured spirit has filled in some holes that are present in the balance of the young spirit. The ageing spirit is much richer, fuller, and expressive than the un-aged spirit.

At this point, I would characterize the nose as being well on its way to that of a nice, mature whisky. It still could clearly use some time to polish off the alcoholic burn that overlays everything, but the surprisingly strong presence of fruit and sweetness promise a fine balance with more time in the cask.

Where's PT Barnum When I Need Him?

Today is the day! I'd set up a fanfare of blaring trumpets and a giant parade if I could, but I am sorely lacking in the showmanship department. In any case, I'm sure you're as curious as I am about what the whisky has done with itself after a week in the cask, so I'll dispense with the excessive preamble and cut right to the chase. Here is a photograph of two glasses of whisky. On the left, the unmatured spirit. On the right, the whisky as it appears after having been aged for a week:

[click the photo to embiggen it]

Were I hip with what the kids are saying today, I'd probably exclaim something like "Oh. My. God. It's, like, totally gotten, like, way darker! LOL!" Fortunately, I'm way out of touch with today's youth, so I'll merely say that I'm impressed and a bit shocked at the rapid change in colour. That's only seven days! Damn skippy!

Up close and personal, and in the requisite matching glasses, the difference is more profound than the photograph can convey. The original spirit is very pale yellow. It's a lot like the colour of the water I poured out of the cask after a few days of conditioning. Swirling it around, it leaves a nice coat of spirit clinging to the inside of the glass which strings very slowly down the glass. Its consistency is light and very slightly oily.

The matured spirit is quite a bit darker. It's become rather remarkably orange, though its saturation is still low, if I can co-opt a phrase from the graphic design world. To me, it looks like the colour of a dark orange whisky to which water has been added: it's not pale, it's just not a dense colour. Washed out. As if it were halfway to the colour it will finally become. Makes sense, I think.

The body is the same as the young spirit: it clings nicely to the glass, ever so slowly sliding down, like glycerin. I notice a couple of bits in the glass, a result of me not using a coffee filter. I'll filter it before taking the whole batch out, don't worry.

I'm going to leave the discussions of the nose and palate of the whisky to different posts. I have a nasty habit of excessive verbiage, and hacking the description into three posts might make it easier to digest.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


[Be warned: here be a post that has nothing to do with whisky!]

Assuming things are behaving as they should, you can now subscribe to this blog by e-mail. The link's over to your left. I also dropped in a more obvious RSS-subscription icon, if you're so inclined. If it misbehaves, please rant accordingly in the comments on this post, and I'll get it working.

There's also now an e-mail link as well, should you feel the need to fill my inbox with your prose. Or poetry, I guess, though that's kind of weird.



You Don't Know Jack

We have reached an important milestone here at the Whisky Lounge. Today we have passed from the territory of general experimentation and have now entered...

The Danger Zone!

You can cue the cheesy Kenny Loggins music if you like, but the Danger Zone we're entering today has nothing to do with Tom Cruise movies from the eighties. It has to do with a potential interesting casking project I could do after the whisky comes out.

Today, we're talking Jack.

Jack is a drink made from fruit that is fractionally frozen. You'll not generally see it outside of North America where it seems to have been born, and here, you'll find it only rarely. It's almost always made from apples and called Applejack. It starts with regular old alcoholic cider which is left to freeze. The water ice is removed, leaving an intensely-flavoured alcohol behind. It's concentrated cider: a poor man's Calvados.

Fractional freezing can also be used to remove the water from other liquors, commonly with vodka. The method to concentrate vodka in this manner is simple enough and could be done at home. It could also be adapted to concentrate whisky, which I find very intriguing. A 40% whisky could be reduced in volume and raised to 50-60%, matured in the cask at cask strength, then watered back down to 40% at time of bottling. Simple, right?

Well, yes, the process of concentrating alcohol by fractional freezing is very simple, but I'm not going to tell you how to do it. My reason? Also simple: it's potentially dangerous. The product of fractional freezing can blind you. It can even kill you.

Risky Business

There are toxic compounds called fusel alcohols in many of the drinks we consume. They're what give whisky and wine a thick, oily body. There's also a minute amount of methanol. At low concentrations, they're not really dangerous. At high concentrations, bad things start to happen. Distillation by heating can remove these nasty compounds, whereas fractional freezing can concentrate them to dangerous levels. Fusel alcohol and methanol can cause massive damage to your central nervous system, blind you and put you in a coma before getting around to killing you. So DO NOT just give fractional freezing a shot to see how it goes.

So why am I talking about this at all? Because it might be possible to do it safely. I'm going to try to track down a chemist or a person knowledgeable in the production of alcohol to see if it can be safely done. If I can do it with cider without a health risk, then I'll maybe give applejack a shot. If I can do it safely with whisky, then it might be a solution to the problem of not being able to find young cask-strength spirit to age in my barrel. I could concentrate a McClelland's or something. But I'm not going to do anything until I have learned a whole lot more about the process.

Oh, and one more thing: fractional freezing might be illegal where you live. This is just another reason to not run out and try it for yourself just yet. I can't think of too many less appealing ways to spend my time than blind, comatose and imprisoned.

I'll let you know what I learn as I learn it. In the meantime, however, there's 20 centimetres of fresh snow, and my snowshoes are calling my name.

Until tomorrow, when we unveil the first week of the Whisky Works spirit!