Single Barrel, Pot-Distilled
I am fairly certain now I will bring both a single barrel rum and cognac to the Gazebo (Friday night's in my case). The reason is to see if certain similarities to bourbon, especially single barrel bourbon, are evident. I have tasted from both these bottles and have some preliminary conclusions. One bottle is an aged cognac. The number 20 appears on the label but it doesn't actually state "20 years old" so I am not sure if it is that age, but clearly it is well aged and will have the character of the single barrel it was taken from. The rum is a 21 year old pot-stilled Jamaican rum that was aged in Bristol, England for many years. While bourbon (except for some of Woodford Reserve's contents) is not pot-distilled, a good bourbon is still a valid comparison to these pot-distilled cousins because all bourbon as we know is distilled at low proof, the final abv being in the range of a pot-distilled product (say 120-140 proof).
Here are some things each drink shares (I used Booker's for the bourbon but any good bourbon would do for the comparison):
(i) a congeneric quality, a distillery character in other words, something one can recognise from its absence in the obverse drink of vodka, for example;
(ii) a certain texture: softness and silkiness, body. Can this result from not having too many diverse whiskeys or other spirits "bumping up" against each other in the mingling? Hard to say; and
(iii) a wood, in fact, oak, flavour; the Booker's shows more charred lignin taste but the toasted quality is evident in the cognac and even the rum which results possibly from using refill charred casks or recharred casks for those spirits.
Where the drinks differ is in the top-notes of "cereal" flavour for bourbon vs. "grape" flavour for cognac vs. a brown sugar-like flavour for the rum (this rum is not dark and heavy but rather medium-light and as the label states, "coconut" and "lemon" in flavour). Clearly, the particular chemical components in a particular fruit or grain fermentation come through in the final product when again it is not highly rectified. I mean, we all know that, but it is worth recalling that apart from the congenerics only water and alcohol are vaporised in each case. No "grapes" or "wine" comes over into the spirit, no "cereal" comes into a whiskey distillate. Rather, naturally produced chemicals and compounds come over which retain their characteristics from the constituent mash. I find that fascinating. Seeing how sophisticated is modern organic chemistry, I wonder if it is possible to duplicate these flavours in a lab. Some of the congeners must be common to each drink since there is a certain similarity of flavour in each. Some congeners must be different, however, to account for the signature taste of each drink, a difference that continues into the condenser, the cask, and is marked even after years of aging.
Re: Single Barrel, Pot-Distilled
Well, after to-ing and fro-ing on this, I've decided not to bring rum or cognac to the Gazebo. Partly because the bottles I have are not quite full and I don't want hassles carrying them on to the plane. Instead, I will bring a bottle of the The Macallan Forties. This is a Macallan of today but the distillery chooses from its existing stocks to match the profile of Macallan distilled in the 1940's. As explained on the label, during the war years, coal was needed for the war effort so the distillery used peat to cure the barley malt (peat is still used by some distillers in Scotland, famously on Islay, but as early as the eve of the Second World War Macallan and many other distilleries had stopped using it or very much of it). So, this Macallan is moderately peated whereas regular Macallan dispenses today with peated malt (or so it seems). Second, the label states that due to war conditions ex-sherry barrel importation from Spain had ceased, so the distillery was reusing existing sherry barrels. This means the flavor of sherry is more muted in this 1940's-style Macallan than in the regular Macallan of today.
The result is a drink that frankly shows its distillery origins (because less disguised by sherry) and offers additional complexity from the peat. It is very good, single malt scotch doesn't get much better.
Also, due to the kind gesture of board member, I will acquire Friday eve in B'town a bottle of Lot 40 Canadian rye whisky, which will therefore be my second contribution to Gazebo. I am hoping this Lot 40 will be from the later bottles released which seem to show more sherry influence than the earliest bottles. Lot 40 is effectively a Canadian straight rye whisky. It is very well-flavored and quite unique, kind of cross between, say, Bulleit and Old Potrero Rye Whiskey. I don't know if that sounds appetizing but it is good, probably close to what some rye whisky was like in the mid-1800's.
So the object here is to look back in two areas of whisky production (non-bourbon) to how Macallan was being made in the parlous early war years, and back even further for Canadian rye, maybe to what it was rye like in the 1860's before Hiram Walker and the other rectification figures really got to work..