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 Tag: Drinking Philosophy

How Johnnie Walker Helped me to be Less of a Whisky Snob

In my last post I described a blind vertical tasting I helped put together of 11 different expressions of Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky. Post tasting I realized that my price bias (less expensive whiskies are not as good at expensive whiskies) was getting in the way of me realizing how good Johnnie Walker Red Label actually is. Now that isn't to say that Red Label is world's best whisky however, it is fantastic for what it is and how it is meant to be consumed.

The first time I drank whisky and fully enjoyed the experience was a glass of Macallan 12 Year Old Single Malt. The few times I tried Johnnie Walker Red or Black Label neat I didn't really enjoyed them as much. I took this to mean that my refined sensibilities (read inexperience) prefered single malts to blended Scotch because they were of higher quality. This belief was confirmed in part by my price bias since many blended Scotches are less expensive than single malts. However, in recent months I have started to rethink these assumptions.

After the blind tasting I began working my way through some of the leftover blended Scotch. I drank it neat, mixed with ginger beer and on the rocks. I realize that it wasn't that I didn't like blended Scotch because I prefered single malt but that I was mostly just drinking blended Scotch in the wrong way. Most blended Scotch is meant to be consumed with some dilution either from ice or with a mixer like water, soda, ginger beer or almost anything else. Lengthening the whisky in this way smooths out any rough edges it might have while retaining its core flavor. In addition to Johnnie Walker, I recently tried J&B Rare, and Dewar's White Label Blended Scotch Whiskies on the rocks. While each varied in flavor, they were refreshing , easy to drink , easy to prepare, and a bottle for your home bar can be found for less than $20! Who says blended Scotch isn't any good?

My change of heart on blended Scotch is similar to how I fell in love with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Years ago I participated in a blind tasting of about two dozen light beers and lagers in which PBR ended up being the clear favorite. While up to that point I usually drank craft ales, the tasting helped me to discover a fantastic American lager that works perfectly on hot days or when you're just not in the mood for a beer with more hops or malt flavor. In a similar way, I now see blended Scotch as an excellent choice for a satisfying and refreshing drink when other whiskey drinks or cocktails may not be as appealing. Or, maybe when you just don't want to think about what you're drinking and instead focus on enjoying your time with others.

There are three great things about being less of a whisky snob: first, it increases my options; two, it's easier on my wallet; and three, it increases my opportunity for drinking enjoyment. David Driscoll of K&L Wines has done a series of blog posts called "Drinking to Drink." Much of Driscoll's writing echoes the idea that the reason we drink should be because we like drinking not what it says about us. This is an easy trap to fall into for anyone but especially for those connected on social media and drinks writers in particular. I like to think about the process of how spirits and other amazing drinks are made and what makes them extraordinary. I also like to have a good drink while talking with friends or watching a baseball game or reading. When you have something special like a rare beer that you can only get directly from a monastery in Europe, the beer becomes the focal point of the evening, but when every drinking experience focuses on drinking the rarest, most exclusive, obscure, or expensive liquid, we lose track somewhat of why we are drinking in the first place. More and more when I'm not working, I turn to a drink I know I don't have to think about much. I want to enjoy the drink but I want to enjoy my experiences and the people I'm spending my time with more.

Grab the Bottle & Pour: Why Waiting for the “Perfect Occasion” is a Bad Idea

Not long ago, my friend Winton the Beer Tuber shared the article “Just Drink It Already!” from Draft Magazine that discussed the growing trend of cellaring beer. The author, Christopher Staten, notes that while the flavor of high-gravity and bottled conditioned beer change over time, many people are simply waiting too long to drink them. While some are waiting for flavor to develop further others are waiting for the “perfect occasion” to match the specialness of the bottle.

For some wines and a smaller number of beers there is a curve on which one can describe the flavors as improving over time, but as with all perishable foods there is a point at which the flavors begin to diminish. For beer and wine drinkers, you can tell yourself that the juice in the bottle is still getting better, so there's a reason to wait. Delaying the gratification of drinking the bottle now is offset by the reward of it tasting better in the future. But, for drinkers who prefer whiskey, brandy or some other liquor, this problem is compounded by the fact that distilled spirits don't improve once they've been bottled. So once a bottle has reached its peak, why do we also want to wait for the perfect occasion?

Read More

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.

The Challenges of Success

In my last post I wrote about wine tasting in Sonoma and while I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the wines we tried the experience left me feeling a bit conflicted.

I am very much a wine novice and I had hoped that the trip would help me find some local wines that I like and that I could keep an eye out for. Because when I go to one of my local stores to buy a bottle it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The problem with our trip to Sonoma was that none of the wineries we visited have any distribution in San Francisco. In the case of these wineries, they don't distribute because they do a profitable business selling directly to the public out of their tasting rooms and wine clubs so there is no need to sell their product to distributors.

This is where my conflict comes in. Part of me is glad that these wineries are producing great products and profiting from it, but practically speaking, this means I will never see their wines again. My budget can't afford a wine club membership for even one of these wineries let alone the 2000 plus wineries in California. The success of California wine and the peculiarities of the wine market means that in some instances it's easier for me to find a bottle from halfway around the world than an hour and a half's drive from San Francisco.

Nonetheless, I am not deterred. In the future I will focus my attention on wineries in Sonoma and Napa that also distribute in San Francisco. For me this approach makes the most sense because I'm not just interested in finding good wine to drink, because there is plenty of that. But I am also interested in learning more about the processes that make great wine particularly in the hills and valleys of Northern California.

My beverage biases

I want to acknowledge upfront that the tastings of spirits, beer, wine and coffee that I write about will be skewed by my own judgments and biases about different beverages. Like anyone else, these judgments and biases are formed out out my own life experiences and the physical limits of my ability to taste and smell. For example, I tend to enjoy drinking rye based whiskeys over wheated whiskeys, or I tend to like coffee made from lightly roasted beans more than dark roasted coffee. While drink writers very rarely write about their own biases, my hope is that by reflecting on them from time to time I may be able to improve my ability to think objectively about what I'm drinking and allow the reader to think critically about my or any other drink writer's work.

One of the primary judgments I make about beverages is that, if it isn't good on its own it's not worth drinking. While I do enjoy a good cocktail or cappuccino from time to time my first instinct is to drink the spirit or coffee on its own without adulteration. Which often means, given the choice between drinking something with a poor tasting base, gussied up to become palatable, and water, I'll chose water. One caveat to this is that, during graduate school I became willing to drink bad coffee with cream and or sugar, simply as a caffeine delivery device.