This week some whiskey fans in Houston were lucky enough to have a chance to meet one of the world’s premier whiskey authors, Dave Broom. On his way to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the largest convention for bartenders and spirit experts in America, Broom stopped into Reserve 101 Monday night to host a world whiskey tasting and book signing, in conjunction with the release of his latest book, The World Atlas of Whisky: 2nd Edition.
I had a chance to read the other book he had available at the signing, Whiskey: The Manual, over the weekend, and I was curious to learn more about his experiences with mixers, as a significant portion of The Manual is dedicated to rating whiskey-mixer pairings.
One of the main goals of both the seminar and the books was to make whiskey more approachable and less intimidating. Broom said, and the group gathered later, that the trend of drinking whiskey neat has only really taken hold in the last 30 years or so. Broom cites histories and recipes from around the world as evidence; Whiskey: The Manual even includes some recipes for infusing your own flavored whiskey at home. To that end, Broom encourages people to mix whiskey in whatever combination they find pleasing. For the Manual, Broom tried a series of whiskeys with five different mixers and rated them all. Americans are certainly familiar with the idea of mixing whiskey with club soda, cola, and ginger ale, but other parts of the world have different standard mixers: Taking a page from Brazil and another from Asia, Broom rounded out his mixer lineup with coconut water and green tea. In the book some of his highest grades go to inexpensive whiskeys with unusual mixers. My favorite unexpected combination: Canadian Club and green tea. Broom himself said his single biggest surprise success in his tasting was Lagavulin 16 mixed with cola.
The whiskeys Broom selected for his tasting represented the most well-known whiskey producing nations in America: Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, and Japan. Each whiskey was made in a unique style, as well— grain whiskey, blended Irish whiskey, rye, bourbon, and Scotch.
Japan: Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey - Whiskey doesn’t have specific requirements for recipe or aging to be called “grain whiskey,” so grain whiskey is often regarded as an inferior product, or one to be used as a filler in a blended whiskey. Broom, however, has a reverence for whiskey of all types, and he insisted on including a grain whiskey to show the style could be made with quality and care. He’s right; the Nikka is an easy sipper, light on the tongue and grain-forward. The first sip is sweet, with the booziness coming in afterward; despite its light feel, this is still an oily scotch. Vanilla is the most notable flavor, with hints of spice and banana as well, and it goes down easy.
The “Coffey” in the name has nothing to do with coffee, the beverage; it’s a reference to the Coffey still in which it was distilled, a style of two-column still named after Aeneas Coffey, an 18th-century Irishman who worked as a excise tax collector. Using the knowledge he gained from 30 years of observation in making his rounds collecting from whiskey distilleries, Coffey designed and patented his own in an attempt to correct their flaws.
Ireland: Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel - The Jameson Black Barrel is a blend of single pot still (slightly different some single malt in that not all of the barley is malted) and grain whiskey. Trying the Jameson after the Nikka, the difference the single pot still makes is immediately noticeable on the nose, with a distinct bready aroma that wasn’t present in the Nikka. The breadiness extends to the mouthfeel; this is a fuller whiskey in feel. The vanilla and marshmallow hints provided by the extra-charred bourbon barrels that are part of the maturation process are rounded out by fruit flavors toward the finish, notably apple.
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Canada: Lot No. 40 Rye Whiskey - This Canadian rye whiskey is also made in a single pot still, from a mash bill that is 100 percent rye. It makes itself known as a rye immediately, with the strong vanilla nose that is a feature of the grain. It’s not quite as full in texture as the Jameson, but I noticed it was more floral than I've come to expect from rye. Hints of dark fruit round off the flavor, and it finishes with the spice and bit that is unmistakably rye.
U.S.: Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon, Reserve 101 Exclusive - This bourbon, my favorite on the market, remains every bit as good and rich as it was when I tried it in May. The nose was even nuttier than I remembered previously, another layer of flavor and complexity to add to this magnificent bourbon.
Scotland: Bowmore 15 Year “Darkest” - The Bowmore is a peated single-malt Scotch from Islay aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished three years in sherry casks. As with previous entries in this category, such as the Laphroaig Select, the combination of peat and sherry makes for a rich, savory Scotch reminiscent of red meat as much as anything else.
One last thing: If you’re looking to stay ahead of the game, to be the first to discover new spirits, I asked Broom which parts of the world weren’t yet known for producing good whiskey, but would be soon. He gave me three answers: Taiwan, Iceland, and Scandinavia.