I have over the years informed people of my experiments blending bourbons, other whiskeys and alcohols to come up with a different take on bourbon or whiskey flavor. Sometimes I'm trying to improve (or in effect make my own) American blended whiskey. This time I decided to make a better bourbon. I was following, but in a unique way (well not really unique, Canadian blenders do what I do more or less), some ideas in an essay Charlie Thomasson wrote in the 1960's about traditional bourbon whiskey. Thomasson was an old-time practical distiller, he started in the industry before World War One. He noted amongst other things that traditional bourbon used a higher amount of barley malt than most modern bourbon. He said the extra barley malt added body to the bourbon but that modern whiskey was thinner-bodied due to scientific distilling which was able to get a higher yield with less barley malt. I have also read, elsewhere, as many here have, that old-time recipes utilised more rye in the mash than is now the case (although some bourbons are still fairly high-rye, e.g., Bulleit, Old Grandad, Blanton). So I thought, to make a bourbon with extra barley malt and rye I'll take some mixed bourbons I have, add some straight rye, and then add some malt scotch whisky which of course is from an all-barley malt mash. Now some people might think, you can't add scotch to bourbon that will ruin it. Well, yes and no. I used The Macallan 10 year old since Macallan is known for using an unpeated malt and has a fairly smooth rich taste. All it is is pure fermented and distilled barley, right? Just as if a distiller added more barley than normal to a corn mash I added more barley except using a finished barley whisky to do it, what is the difference? Instead of being fermented, distilled and aged together the grain elements are partly being isolated and then combined in finished form but the result should taste the same. I think. True, The Macallan is aged in ex-sherry casks but this was actually a plus since the winy note from the sherry helped marry everything, it acted as a mild blending agent. If I had had some unpeated malt whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels maybe that would have been better but I didn't have any.
So I took my mixed bourbons, about 20 ounces, added 3 ounces of The Macallan and then about 2 ounces of Michter's Straight Rye. Then I stirred well. So in other words, looked at "chemically", I recreated via combining finished aged whiskies a traditional bourbon mash. See? Then I tinkered with my resultant blend - I call it McTuckey - adding a bit more of the same bourbon base or a bit more Macallan until I got the precise balance I wanted. I like a full-flavoured but soft whiskey with good length and that is what I got. This could taste like, say, that Belmont bourbon from 1919 that was found in Denver not long ago. If I had added instead of the scotch one of those new American unpeated whiskeys (microdistilled) that would be another way to create this blend and I suppose more "authentic" because using all-U.S. whiskey but that alone does not concern me, I don't think it matters what you use if the thinking behind it is sound. The result in any case tasted really good, it tastes like a very good rich bourbon. The rye edges shine though in the finish and are balanced by the heavy body. Good bourbon char flavour still comes through. It doesn't taste like "scotch" at all, if you didn't know it was in there you would never guess it. The drink is very rich, it is almost like a Manhattan without being one, a natural Manhattan. You could do this at home from commonly used whiskeys. E.g., take:
2 ounces of any bourbon (say Wild Turkey, but any will do or any mixture)
one half-ounce any kind of unpeated malt whiskey (say Bushmills Single Malt which has no peat whatever and no unmalted grains, but probably even Glenlivet would do, just make sure it is not peated or if it is, only very lightly so), plus
one half-ounce any straight rye
Anyone good with numbers can figure out, if they knew the percentages of the grains used in the bourbon and rye, exactly what the corn, rye and barley malt percentages of the final "mash" was. Of course, the corn would drop and the barley and rye would go up and you might get close to a pre-Prohibition recipe for bourbon, one which offered rich body from lots of barley malt and lots of tangs from the extra rye. It is, arguably, just making a better bourbon. Sure, Barton's Ridgemont Reserve 1792, which uses more rye and barley in the mash than Very Old Barton, benefits from the "unity" of being mashed in one go and distilled and aged in one place. My approach is different, more of a "copy" you might say, but no less valid for that and certainly unique and distinctive.
I may bring one of these combinations to Gazebo upcoming, they taste like a Johnnie Walker Blue Label of bourbon only better.