(Continued from “The Stateside Spirit II” on 18 January 2019)
Bourbon as a whisk(e)y style is not to be sniffed at – that is a common mistake made by many scotch snobs, who often mistake bourbon’s sweetness for simplicity, its absence of peat for lack of diversity, and its rare use of age statement – and comparatively few years spent in barrels – for lack of either depth or patience. These are essentially misconceptions, which nonetheless contain a grain of truth, since misconceptions and facts are not dichotomous – misconception is but a faulty reading of facts.
Bourbons do generally spend fewer years in barrels than scotch; indeed, most spirits spend fewer years in barrels than scotch. This is due to Scotland’s cool and wet climate, which results in slower maturation and evaporation, while in countries and regions with continental, sub-tropical and tropical climates e.g. Kentucky and Tennessee, Taiwan and India etc., spirits in barrels tend to mature and evaporate much quicker. Whereas 10 years mark the bottom line of scotch with age statement, the same number would appear quite venerable in bourbon.
Age statement remains a contentious issue in the realm of scotch. On the one hand, modernists / pragmatists argue that it is the taste of the final product that counts, and that age statement is but a selling point invented by desperate producers struggling to sell their stock in the midst of market downturn in the 1970s and 1980s, indeed the last ice age of scotch. Having said that, traditionalists maintain that even if age statement does not single-handedly guarantee quality, it does warrant that no corners are cut.
When it comes to the use of artificial additives, scotch is as good as a moral compass vis-à-vis cognac, and bourbon is downright saintly. The hated and stigmatised E150 has absolutely no place in the production of Straight Bourbon, which must contain nothing else other than water. This is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly commercialised, globalised and monetised spirits market, wherein producers have to be accountable to not only consumers, but also shareholders.
For those who are weary of E150, fancy packaging, ubiquitous marketing or the endless pursuit of premium old nectars whose price tags make them instantly irrelevant to most consumers, bourbon is an uncorrupted oasis to be explored. Scotch single malt can be rather “high church” – a splash of water to unlock the taste, and nothing else. Bourbon, in contrast, is very much easier going – a wedge of lime or lemon, with coke or water, with or without ice… Imagination is the limit.
To be continued…
This straight bourbon from Clermont, Kentucky is said to represent pre-Prohibition bourbons, prior to the age of mass production. Bright amber with shimmering copper reflex, the candid nose offers vanilla, almond, granary toast, butterscotch and candy floss. With a vigorous mouthfeel, the spicy palate delivers black pepper, walnut oil, rye bread, dark chocolate and salted butter. Medium-full bodied at 50%, the charming entry continues through a potent mid-palate, leading to a rounded finish.
This unfiltered cask strength showstopper from Clermont, Kentucky is as crude and pure as a straight bourbon could get. Dark amber with glowing vermillion reflex, the heady nose radiates brandied cherry, nutmeg, caffè mocha, burnt sugar and woodsmoke. With an intensissimo mouthfeel, the indomitable palate oozes prune, clove, cocoa, muscovado and charcoal. Full-bodied at 63.7%, the piquant entry persists through a spirited mid-palate, leading to an indelible finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages