Monday, September 24, 2012

Craft Whiskey Wrap Up - Some Craft Whiskey Doesn't Suck

After a week of tasting craft whiskeys (and there will be more to come, though not immediately), I thought I'd record some general reflections. It's been two years since I wrote that Most Craft Whiskeys Suck, and two years is a lifetime in the very young craft movement.

As a whole, I think the quality of craft whiskey is improving (or at least there are more quality craft whiskeys out there than when I proclaimed them mostly sucky). Unlike some of the just plain bad whiskeys I had in earlier days, the Lost Spirits peated whiskeys and the McKenzie Rye tasted like high quality distillate. The problem is that they are still too young, or in the case of McKenzie, aged in small barrels which give them that raw, woody quality. Unlike some of the really bad craft whiskeys, though, those issues can be addressed, and Finger Lakes (the makers of McKenzie) have already laid down some spirit in large barrels.

Good whiskey takes time and there's just no way around that, but now we have some distilleries that are actually making good spirit, and hopefully in a few more years, they will have some decently aged whiskey that we can all enjoy.

Would I recommend buying one of these young whiskeys with potential. Certainly not. Yes, these whiskeys are promising, but I don't by bottles of promise, and certainly not at $40 or $50 a pop.

The bright spot here was the Balcones Brimstone, which is probably the only new craft whiskey I've tasted which I would actually recommend buying. It's also young, but it manages to coax out a lot of flavor and for some reason, possibly the heavy smoke, it doesn't have that new make taste (though even heavy peating couldn't cover up the new make taste in Lost Spirits' Leviathan).

I'm a thrill seeker, so as long as they make new whiskey, I'll continue to try it. For now, I'd say that I've replaced my bleak outlook about the craft whiskey movement with a bit of cautious optimism.


Josh Feldman said...

There certainly are a lot of craft spirits that are rough and raw. There is a tendency to confuse wood extraction for aging. More wood certainly isn't the same thing as the mellowness of aging in wood that is also accompanied by the extra wood extraction that goes along with time.

However I would point out a couple of things:

1) the extra wood extraction of small barrels makes a younger spirit that tastes more heavily of the wood that was in that small barrel. That wood can taste like kiln dried oak from Home Depot (particularly if that's what the wood in that small barrel actually is) - or it can taste like sweeter cleaner wood if the wood has been properly air dried and cured.

2) There are other tricks distillers can use speed up maturation. One example is high heat. Amrut, Kavalan, and Balcones run rickhouses that bake in serious heat and have whiskies that end up tasting pretty mature after only a few years.

You mention Balcones Brimstone doesn't taste as young as it is (less than 3 years) but wonder if the huge smoke wallop hides something. My reply to that is try True Blue (if you haven't already). It's a pretty rich and mature tasting whisky that has the same stuff (mash bill) as Brimstone.

It's an indication that there is some real future to craft spirits. I'll be watching Lost Spirits carefully as their juice matures too.

Great set of posts and interesting set of topics, Sku.

sku said...

Josh, thanks for your comments. I've tried a number of Balcones products including the True Blue, and while they were all decent, none of them excited me like the Brimstone did.

Unknown said...

I live very close to Finger Lakes Distilling and agree that most of their stuff is young at this point. I also don't like things from small barrels, generally...

I've been promised a sample of their new peated malt whisky, though. I'm pretty optimistic about it.

tmckenzie said...

I have still got to get that out to you. Has you said Sku, we do have large barrels aging, in fact, a good number are passing the 3 year mark now. Hopefully within the next year, all of our stuff will be from 53 gallon barrels. we have always put the majority of our production into 53 gallon barrels. Thanks for the kind words.

sku said...

Great to hear about your 53s Tom. I'll look forward to trying them.