EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Category: Palate Workout

Blind Whiskey Tasting $20 and Under

In June, David Driscoll of K&L Wines wrote a series of post called “Drinking to Drink.” While the series touched on a number of things, one of the themes was how whiskey drinkers often correlate price with enjoyment.  Driscoll argued that just because one whiskey is $80 doesn't mean that a drinker will enjoy it four times more than a $20 bottle.  In that same vein he suggested that there were a number of quality whiskeys that could be had for $20 and enjoyed more regularly without breaking the bank. After reading this series, I was inspired to organize a whiskey tasting of bottles that retailed around $20 or less.  I was curious to find out if there was a whiskey that I had overlooked simply because it lived on a lower shelf in the liquor aisle.

With some help from another post by Driscoll and my own mental list, I put together a list of six whiskies around $20 for the tasting.

  1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
  2. Old Weller Antique Bourbon
  3. Jim Beam Black Label Bourbon
  4. Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon
  5. George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky
  6. Bank Note Blended Scotch Whisky

I know that Bulleit Bourbon can also be found on sale for under $20 but my friends and I are pretty familiar with it so I decided to leaving it out of the tasting.  I also decided to conduct the tasting blind. That there are a number of factors that can sway the perception of how good a beer, wine or spirit is based on external factors like, what shelf it's on in the store, label design, bottle shape and price.  I wanted to get an honest assessment of the contents of the bottles without being swayed by some of those external factors, so I had my wife wrap all the bottles in brown paper bags before the tasting.

The night of the tasting a friend of mine hosted the event and provided glasses, snacks and still water. We tasted the spirits in random order in glencairn glasses, neat, at room temperature.  We each took notes about what we tasted and gave each spirit a rating.  Once everyone had tasted all the whiskeys we revealed each whiskey from lowest to highest score.

 The undisputed favorite of the evening was Evan Williams Black Label, the least expensive whiskey, which retails at my local Safeway for $9.99.  I had tasted Evan Williams only once before a few months prior and I thought it would do well in the tasting but I didn't expect it to come out on top. Next came Buffalo Trace and Old Weller Antique.  I wasn't that surprised that these did well for the whole group but personally I was shocked that I had rated Old Weller above Buffalo Trace. This surprised me because I really like rye whiskeys and I have never been a fan of Maker's Mark. I assumed that this meant that I didn't like wheated bourbons and that I preferred bourbons with rye in their mash bill over wheat.  But even at 107 proof, I felt like Old Weller was more balanced and had more character compared to the 90 proof Buffalo Trace.

Dickel, Beam and Bank Note finished in the lower half.  Bank Note is a blended Scotch, and for the price I still think it is pretty good but I suspect that compared to all the bourbons it stood out like a sore thumb, and not it a good way.  The results that evening are exactly why I like to do blind tastings.  My assumptions about what I do and don't like were challenged and as a result I now have two new favorite whiskeys under $20: Evan Williams, and Old Weller.

Upcoming Yeast & Fermentation Workshop For Distillers

Image from White Labs

On October 4th and 5th I'm going to be in San Diego, attending White Labs' 4th annual Yeast and Fermentation Workshop and Webinar for Distillers.  The two day workshop will cover a broad range of topics related to yeast, such as, basic biology, how to select strains for specific distillates, and the sensory impact of yeast on distilled spirits. The first day of seminars will be at White Labs, and the second day's practicum will be held at  Ballast Point Spirits.

Lee Medoff of Bull Run Distillery in Portland took the class last year and I talked with him to get his impression of the class.  Lee has worked as a brewer, vintner and distiller for quite some time and told me he was interested in picking up some tips about low nutrient cane sugar fermentations for rum.  Lee said that he particularly liked the hands on yeast hydration and culturing lab.  And, in his opinion, one of the best parts of the workshop were the unstructured times he could talk one on one with the White Labs staff and the other distillers, trading tips and best practices.  Like with any two day workshop there were a couple of topics he wanted more of.  But, when he returned to Bull Run, Lee brought back some new yeast protocols that required some trial and error to get just right for his distillery.  However, he seems to feel that the workshop helped him improve his fermentations for rum.  Lee told me that since he has taken the class, he has recommended it to all of the members of the Oregon Distillers Guild. That sounds like a resounding recommended to me and I'm excited that I can attend.

For anyone interested in improving their yeast management and or learning about good fermentation practices particular to the needs of distillers, this sounds like the workshop for you.  To find out more details about the class call White Labs at 1-888-5-Yeast-5 or check out their website.

My First Book & the ADI Spirits Conference

Life is good...so good in fact I haven't had a chance to post anything new for awhile. The first piece of exciting news is that the book I helped write A World Guide to Whisk(e)y Distilleries has been published by White Mule Press, the publishing arm of the American Distilling Institute (ADI). I came onto the project about a third of the way through and saw it to completion. The book attempts to list all the commercial whisk(e)y distilleries in the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe and the products they make. So if you are an avid whisk(e)y enthusiast that likes to visit distilleries or you want to know where your favorite product is made you'll probably find this useful.

I'm excited that I have a couple more book projects lined up with White Mule Press but at present I have been busy editing two books for them, one on gin and a second on rum production. These projects have been particularly demanding of my time which is partially why I haven't posted anything recently.

The other piece of exciting news is that I attended the 10th Annual ADI Spirits Conference & Vender Expo, that this year was held in Denver. The conference brought together about 900 distillers, soon to be distillers, and the still, label, glass, barrel and branding vendors that service the craft distilling industry. It was a blast to meet both new and seasoned distillers who were passionate about their craft and committed to growing successful businesses. One of my highlights from the conference was sitting in on David Smith's gin tasting. David writes for a number of publications as well as his site Summer Fruit Cup. We tasted some stand out gins from the US, UK, and France. If you're a big fan of gin a couple to look out for are FEW Barrel Aged Gin and Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin.

During the gala dinner ADI announced the results from their 7th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits. The Best of Class winners were: Ballast Point Spirits, Devil's Share Malt Whiskey; Valentine Distilling Company, Liberator Gin; Balcones Distilling, Texas Rum; Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, Apple Pie Moonshine; and Jepson Vineyards, Old Stock Mendocino Brandy. For the full list of winners check out ADI's website.

Now that I'm back from Denver I hope to get back into my routine of posting once or twice a week.