Saturday, April 23, 2011

Feets of Strength

It is finally here.  The highly anticipated and equally dreaded whisk(e)y taste test. So far our first two taste tastes each led to surprises. In the vodka taste test we learned that a cheap Russian vodka tasted better than the more expensive and more well-known brands.  In the light beer taste test we learned that mass produced light beer pretty much all tasted the same.  Oh wait, that wasn’t the surprise.  The surprise was that our two devoted Miller Lite drinkers both actually liked Bud Light better.  Will the whisk(e)y taste test lead to a surprise?  If neither of us retches during the test, I would consider that I surprise.
Our Contenders
Since whiskey (I’m going to stop with the parentheses after this) has many different sub-categories, this test will be slightly different than our previous two.  Instead of picking the best of a specific variety, we will be tasting several different types of whiskey to see which one we hate the least.  I’m not going to spend a bunch of time explaining the differences since there are plenty of other resources available for that. Our selected choices are based purely what we have on hand in the Bottle Wonderland Bar.  We have two Kentucky bourbons, a Kentucky rye, a Canadian blended whisky, an Irish whiskey, and a Scotch whisky.

Without further ado, let’s meet the competitors:

Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – According to Wikipedia, Wild Turkey “suggest[s] a rough, hard-living person” or “a person with ‘white trash’ traits”.  Those of you who know us personally understand how those descriptions fit us to a T. I’m as hard as they come.  The suburb I grew up in didn’t even have all-brick houses.  Through hard work and perseverance, we were able to work our way up to our current brick-fronted Bottle Wonderland Estate. We did it with no help from anyone other than our parents paying for college and buying us stuff.   That hardscrabble life is why we drink Wild Turkey.

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky – Maker’s Mark is a little more froo-froo than Wild Turkey. There are some clues right on the bottle.  The first is the famous red wax seal, although I admit it looks kind of cool. The second clue is that they spell whisky without the “e”.  Typically, bourbon whiskey is spelled whiskey, not whisky.  Who are they trying to kid with this tomfoolery?  I guess it worked, though, since we have a bottle. It is 90 proof, making it stronger than most of today’s competition.  Maker’s Mark has a lot of information on their web site, but I couldn’t find anything that really described what the taste is.

Jim Beam Rye – There are several drinks in the Mr. Boston guide that specifically call for rye.  It turns out that rye can be a little difficult to find at the ABC store.  Once we found it we were presented with the choice of Jim Beam or Wild Turkey.  The Beam was cheaper, so that’s what we have.  According to their web site, Jim Beam is America’s best selling rye.  Congratulations, Jim Beam, you beat out your one competitor!  I think it may have more to do with their cheaper price than the fact that it is “spicy, bold, and flavorful”.  I was also glad to see that Jim Beam is made with 51% rye, which is the minimum amount required to be called rye.  We here at TBIAW are huge supporters of doing the minimum required.  If they used more than 51% it might make the other rye look bad.

Whisky Purse
Crown Royal Black Blended Canadian Whisky – Crown Royal is our first contender from outside the USA.  It comes from Canada, America’s Hat.   This whisky is actually a guest in our home.  Mrs. Bottle’s father inadvertently left it here over Christmas.  Since we are bad children, we have not returned it yet.  I don’t know much about Crown Royal other than the fact that their bottles come in a little purse. People try to tell me that I am not manly because I don’t like whisky, but at least gin doesn’t come in a purse. The Crown Royal Black eschews the traditional purple purse for a black one, making it the perfect companion for a night on the town with the girls.  Mrs. Bottle’s father claims that this whisky is smooth and thinks we might like it. Even though it is a strong 90 proof, their web site says it has “dark, sweet, maple notes and a light vanilla flavor towards the finish”.  That sounds delicious to me.  Maybe I’ll pour some on a pancake.

Jameson Irish Whiskey – When we do our taste tests, we try to learn a little about each of the contenders.  We distil the information and share with you only the most interesting tidbits.  For example, it turns out that Jameson Irish Whiskey is made in Ireland. The main thing I learned from the Jameson web site is that in Ireland they spell “distill” with only one “l”.   They had to conserve the “l” to make up for the extra “u” they liberally sprinkle where it doesn’t belong.  Their site also infourms us that Jameson has a “sweet nutty flavour” and “toasted wood and vanilla notes”.  I love toasted wood with some cinnamon sugar and a nice poached egg.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Old Scotch Whisky – Johnnie Walker has five different colored labels they use to distinguish their whiskies. Their rainbow of flavors makes them a favorite in the LGBT community.   Black Label is their second tier offering.  It is a “unique blend with a smooth, deep and complex character”.  That doesn’t tell me a lot about what to expect.  What are they hiding?  According to their web site, Black Label is “regarded by experts as the ultimate Scotch deluxe whisky, the benchmark by which all others are measured.”  If that is the case, it seems that their Green, Gold, and Blue labels are superfluous. Like many of the whisky manufacturers, Johnnie Walker has a club you can join to let everyone know what product you like.  Theirs is called the “Striding Man Society”.   They have an annual meeting in the desert just like Burning Man, but with less ecstasy and more striding.   

Whiskies ready to be tasted.  They are also ready for the Olympics
As before, the tasting was set up so neither Mrs. Bottle nor I knew which cup contained which whiskey.  Instead of ranking them from favorite to least favorite, we simply picked our “favorite”, and then tried to guess which was which.  I actually knew which one was the Crown Royal because it was significantly darker than the others, but I did not know what the other five were.

Before we get to our notes, we must warn that if you are looking for some fancy-schmancy reviews where we give subtle details about the differences of the various whiskies you will not find it here.  It’s not to say that we didn’t try, though.  We spent many minutes sniffing and swishing and generally looking like accomplished snobs aficionados.  It didn’t matter though.  Our palates are not conditioned for whiskey and my vocabulary does not contain phrases like “the nose has notes of pepper, butterscotch, honey, and a pointed hint of citrus that really highlights the softer, sweeter flavors.”  Maybe people can really taste all that, but I remain skeptical.

Let me share with you our notes:

Wild Turkey Bourbon:  Smooth; slight burning; pretty good; more feet-like.  Off to a decent start.  Rating a “pretty good” is high praise from us.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon: Smells sweet; a little like caramel; a little burn; not altogether horrible. Again, I consider this a victory for Maker’s Mark.
Jim Beam Rye: First not too bad, then got worse; Not burning; Harsh; bitter.  Notice that the words “spicy, bold, and flavorful” did not appear.  I suppose “harsh and bitter” could be “bold and flavorful.”
Crown Royal Black Blended Whisky: Nostrils burn, but a different taste than #1 [Maker’s Mark]; Harsh, but not as bad as #5 [Jameson]. It did not taste like something I would want to put on a pancake.
Jameson Irish Whiskey: Smells floral; Awful; Harsh but not feet-y.  Hmm…this isn’t good.  I thought I was learning to like Irish whiskey but maybe not.  It certainly was not as good as toasted wood.
Johnnie Walker Black Scotch: Feet; I can’t tell my taste buds are dead.  There you have it.  Mrs. Bottle has been saying Scotch tasted like feet and this test confirmed it.

Celebratory shot of Maker's Mark
with built in Coke Zero chaser

So there you have it. In the whiskey taste test, everyone is a loser, especially us.  And possibly you, if you made it this far.  We didn’t love any of them, but in fairness, this taste test was more pleasant than the vodka taste test.  In that one the burning sensation was terrible.  For the most part, the whiskies were smoother and had more flavor than straight vodka.  The downside was that the flavor was that of feet.

Guessing which was which was a tough challenge, especially considering neither of us had ever tasted the rye or Canadian whisky before. Mrs. Bottle correctly identified the Johnnie Walker and I was able to get the two bourbons, but we got all the rest wrong.  When it was time to pick our “favorites”, Mrs. Bottle liked the Wild Turkey, and I liked the Maker’s Mark.  This was sort of like picking your favorite deadly bacteria (it’s a dead heat between E. coli and MRSA).

Regardless, a winner was chosen and that must be celebrated.  To reach that end, I dipped various body parts into red wax.  Normally we only do that on special occasions and Saturdays.

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