Ok, here it goes-I’m a Whisky Expert. God, I hate that statement because it implies I know everything there is about Whisky and therefore I’m infallible on the subject. I can assure you that I do not know everything about Whisky, and I am wrong on a daily basis (just ask my Wife & kids). I’m really more of an enthusiast or disciple of whisky. In fact, I like whisky so much that I’m professionally employed on the subject, host a radio show on the subject, write about the subject, and have been inducted into The Keepers of The Quaich (an exclusive Society that recognizes those that have shown outstanding commitment to the Scotch Whisky industry). Man, that really does sound like I’m a Whisky Expert. In any case, I’d like you to think of me as your personal guide to enjoying whisky. I’ll cover topics and processes involving whisky in an easy to understand manner that will hopefully make you a “Whisky Expert” too.
Whisky Storage: The do’s and the hell don’ts.
Recently, someone was telling me that they keep their whisky bottles in the wine rack above their refrigerator and the open bottles inside! I tried not to look too shocked, and with a straight face I asked the reasoning behind this storage solution. He said, “Well, I don’t drink wine so it seemed like a good use of space, and I figured that putting the open bottles inside would preserve the flavors of the whisky.” I gave a shrug and had to admit that he had sound reasoning for someone who didn’t know better.
But let’s take a look at my friend’s fantastic use of the kitchen refrigerator-there are several problems with this. First, above or around the refrigerator is a terrible place to store any type of beverage. The heat that the refrigerator throws off is damaging to wine, beer and even whisky. I always pictured a ring of Hell where kitchen designers and cabinet makers that put wine racks above the refrigerators are forced to drink all the spirited beverages they have ruined. Although, whisky is pretty durable, heat and light are not only damaging to the whisky itself, but to the cork that seals most bottles.
And since I mentioned “cork” that is the second problem with the wine-rack scenario-the laying down of the bottle. When you store wine, you want that precise angle where the wine touches the cork so the stopper does not dry out and lose its seal. However, with whisky, contact with the higher alcohol liquid can actually disintegrate the cork, causing it to lose the seal and allow the spirit to evaporate. Plus the breakdown of the cork will leave a nasty residue in the liquid. Therefore, as an unbreakable rule, cork-closure Whisky should be stored upright. I would also highly suggest that it should be in a cool dark area, away from any extreme heat.
But it sounds, then, like the inside of the refrigerator would be a great place to store whisky. Well, while the inside of the refrigerator is cold and dark (the light does go off when you shut the door, trust me on this), it is a little too cold. In fact, it is so cold that it might stiffen and shrink the cork causing a bad seal. Also, you will lose some flavor if your whisky is too cold, and, with many whiskies being un-chilled filtered, you could cause the whisky to cloud up. The ideal environment is a constant cool temperature of low 60°F to under 70°F, upright, and no direct light. If you follow these basic rules your whisky will have an almost infinite lifespan!
Now, as you get more into whisky you will find that you will have many bottles opened at the same time, and it may be long periods before you revisit an opened bottle. Since whisky is, like I stated before, pretty durable, this is not usually a problem, but I use the 1/3 rule to determine how I want to protect the remaining whisky in the bottle. The first 1/3 of the bottle I don’t really need to worry about; I drink or store as I please. As I’m drinking the next 1/3, I might spray a little preserving inert gas (www.PrivateReserve.com) if I don’t intend to go back to that bottle for the next six months or so.
However, as you approach the last 1/3 of the bottle you need to plan what you want to do with the remaining whisky. Depending on how you value each whisky, I have several solutions for the remaining whisky in your bottle. If it is an expensive whisky that you only drink on special occasions, like once a year, I would use the inert gas mentioned above. This allows you to keep it in the original bottle so everyone can “ohh” and “ahh” when you present it to guests. If the whisky is special to only you, I would transfer it into a smaller bottle to give the liquid smaller head space and thus less contact with oxygen. If you use this method don’t forget to label the new bottle if you want to keep track of what is in it!
Now that you know how to store your precious whisky let’s have some fun with it! If you have many bottles in that last 1/3 range, have your friends over and host a tasting party. Ask the friends that are into whisky to bring their 1/3 bottles over too! These types of gatherings allow everyone to expand their tasting experiences, plus they are great social opportunities. (You can send my invitation via this magazine 😉 )
There is also a neat trend called the “infinity bottle” where you start blending those 1/3 or less filled bottles into a decanter. It’s quite interesting to see how the flavors build on each other from different expressions of whiskies. It is important to think about which whiskies you would want to blend together. Not everything will work out to be tasty, but it is a great exercise on blending different components to try to make the sum greater than its parts.
A variation on this theme is to create an “infinity BARREL” where you dump whisky into a mini oak barrel (www.northamericanbarrel.com) and let it age as the flavors marry together. The point is to keep filling the barrel with dying bottles, resulting in many new combinations and a barrel that is never empty. You can even season the barrel first with other liquids like sherry or port and create a finishing barrel for your vatted whisky. These mini barrels let you experiment and have fun!
Open your mind to new whisky experiences and allow yourself to be creative. And just remember that there is never a bad day for good whisky!
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Malt of the Moment
Very nice whisky doesn’t always have to come with a big price tag. My Malt of the Moment is a prime example of this theory in practice. So, without further ado, I present Glen Grant 12-year-old Speyside single malt. This bright amber colored whisky is 86 proof (43% abv) and gives off aromas of apples and pears as soon as it is uncorked. Upon further nosing, hints of dry almonds and lemon join in to give a full sensory experience. As you consume this liquid, the taste of apple turnover mingles with Bosc pear and toffee. All of this ends nicely with orchard fruitiness and hints of spice. The layers of flavors in this relatively light style of whisky are quite remarkable. The distillery attributes this depth of flavor to their unique distillation process that uses water cooling purifiers on both first and second distillations. They say this method allows only the most refined vapors to condense into spirit that will become Glen Grant Whisky. Quite frankly, I don’t care if they have fairies sprinkling pixie dust on this whisky to get these results-just keep doing it!
Whiskyjourneyman Rating: 91 points in $40-$60 range