Friday, June 1, 2018

That Stuff You're Drinking? It's Not Whiskey

Whiskey has exactly one ingredient, whiskey. A mixture of different whiskeys, and nothing else, is still whiskey. A mixture of whiskey and other stuff is not whiskey. It is a cocktail.

People can drink what they want. You should drink what you like and be proud of it, which means be honest about it. Don't say you are a whiskey drinker if what you are drinking is not whiskey but merely a beverage "made with whiskey." (See label, above.)

You will also notice, on that label, that the word 'Tabasco' appears in larger type and twice as often as the word 'whisky.'

There are several things going on here, about branding and American whiskey having a moment right now. All of a sudden, everybody wants to say they're a whiskey drinker. Just about all of the big producers are getting in on it. Jack Daniel's Honey is not whiskey. Red Stag by Jim Beam is not whiskey. Fireball is not whiskey.

We could talk about the labeling rules, but what's the point? Most of these products follow the rules, more or less. This isn't about rules, this is about common sense, or maybe dignity, or patriotism, honor, faith, courage, respect, something important like that.

We may not all have the same truth, but let's all try to speak the same language.

A manhattan is a drink made with whiskey, but a manhattan is not whiskey. Only whiskey is whiskey.

Wood finishes, like Angels Envy, Maker's 46, or Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, are a different subject. Wood is an ingredient in whiskey, not the other way around. You can mess with the wood and the liquid is still whiskey. If the Dickel product was just Tennessee whiskey finished in Tabasco barrels it might not be good, but it would be whiskey.

But if you add port, or sherry, or honey, or honey liqueur, or 'essence of Tabasco,' the beverage is no longer whiskey. A beverage is not 'cinnamon whiskey' unless it is distilled from the fermented bark of a cinnamon tree. It is, exactly like a manhattan, a drink in which whiskey is an ingredient.

Well, not exactly like a manhattan. A manhattan is good.


Curt said...

I hear you, Chuck. I agree, but your are using exacting terms at a time when such integrity is a tiny puff of dust in the rear view mirror. I don't pretend to know when or exactly how it set in, but people don't seem to care and in fact are angered at the prospect of being held to what you and I still consider reasonable standards. I'd have to call it a rebellion at this point. I have friends that love Fireball and call it whiskey without so much as a thought. But if I tried to correct them they'd look at me like an old horse in a dirt pasture.

Unknown said...

But if Dickel is just finished in Tabasco Kegs... Would it not remain whiskey?

Unknown said...

My Bad I missed "Essence of Tabasco " My apologies.

Red_Dog_in_VA said...

Hey Chuck, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think. :D

The good side with all these specialty products is that they serve as a gateway for many folks to the good stuff. The bad side is too many folks never graduate and, as you point out, think they are drinking whiskey.

Anonymous said...

Your last second to last paragraph (sherry/port/etc) is not entirely true. BAM Ch 7 under 'HARMLESS COLORING/FLAVORING/BLENDING MATERIALS', the second bullet of Ch 7 clearly acknowledges precedence to various trade practices (rectification) dating back to the pre Bottled-in-Bond Act era. Unfortunately, this is also the work around to which various large handcrafted Vodka companies can utilizes blending glycerol into their Vodka and not declare it.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Right on all points, Chuck.

Fred Minnick had a little piece on this, too. As a Dickel fan, I was happy to read their new Master Distiller, Nicole Austin, isn't a like a fan of this stuff, either---or at least it doesn't sound that way, reading a bit into her statement.

I really can't blame Dickel. It seems to be a hot category, and they are in business to make money after all.

With that said, I stopped into a little bar I occasionally visit, today. On several occasions I asked the owner to stock George Dickel 12. She keeps saying she will order it---but it's never there. Well, when I walked in, she said, "Brian we have Dickel". Then she showed me the Dickel Tabasco bottle.I just shook my head in disbelief.

Anonymous said...

I wish Dickel had just finished their product in the Tabasco barrels. I assume, given the level of manipulation done to the product in the picture, that they first tried this and found the results less than ideal.

It is much nicer and cleaner to call your product "whiskey finished in tabasco barrels" than that mouthful of whiskey, tabasco sauce, and tabasco mush.

Ringwoodsman said...

A question about "barrel-finished" whiskeys - Let's assume that instead of just adding Tabasco mash, Dickel had done the following:

1. Take an old barrel, put Tabasco in it for a few weeks.
2. Remove Tabasco.
3. Add whiskey into the barrel to "finish" for a few weeks.
4. Remove the whiskey and bottle it as-is (or proofed down, whatever).

Would that resulting product still be whiskey? When I see a sherry-barrel-finished whiskey, or one of the High West scotch-barrel-finished ryes, I consider it whiskey. I assume you'd agree with that. But would that only be true if the whiskey is finished in a barrel that is traditionally used to age whatever was in it previously? I'm not sure where to draw that line.

Unknown said...

Being from the Seattle area, I can't stand hearing ads from heritage distilling for Bsb 'brown sugar bourbon' which is flavored 60 proof not bourbon

Unknown said...

We seem to be at a point in the culture where these kinds of distinctions are resented because they make people feel excluded from the fun. It's like insisting that your vegetable & bean stew is chili. I know why you want to call it chili--chili is awesome and people, rightly, love it. But chili is "meat and heat" and you brought stew to the chili party my friend. Delicious stew, perhaps, but stew.

Chuck Cowdery said...

All I was really trying to say about wood finishes was, that's a different argument. They have to be disclosed and classed as 'whiskey specialties,' which is the same category used by products that add flavoring. Neither can be labeled just bourbon or straight bourbon, so the difference is a matter of opinion.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm comfortable with wood finishes because wood is what makes whiskey whiskey, so messing around with wood seems like fair game. All of the hypotheticals that go against that involve what seem to be sneaky ways of actually adding another liquid. That's more of a thought exercise than anything else, because even a very wet barrel isn't going to introduce enough liquid to make much of a difference.

Unknown said...

While I agree the wood finishes still qualify as whiskey, I find some of them very distracting from the core essence of the whiskey. I love Whistle Pig 10 year old rye, I think it's one of the best rye's I've ever had. So when I got a coupon for Whistle Pig Old World finished in 3 types of barrels I snapped it up. While it is interesting, it does not taste like rye. The spice of rye is buried in the sweetness of the finishes. It's nearly a liqueur. I'm certainly not going to buy any honey/cinnamon/hot sauce flavored whiskey. If I want to make a cocktail it will be a Sazarac or a Manhattan made with straight rye or whiskey.

Chuck Cowdery said...

That's part of the problem with sourced whiskey, which WhistlePig is. In addition to the wood finishes, the whiskey itself was from a completely different distillery and was much younger, facts the wood finishes were probably intended to mask. If you want consistent flavor, stick with brands that make the whiskey themselves.

Anonymous said...

Just a though regarding wood finishes: I am not an authority like Chuck, but I agree. This is a matter of principle and tradition. Maturation in used cooperage is traditional with Scotch and other whisk(e)y. One may or may not like/enjoy the resulting flavor, but we're not talking about that here, we're talking about what whiskey is and isn't. Just like Chuck already said: whisky aged in ex-tabasco barrel may be very bad, but it's whisky (I suspect there's plenty of straight whisky that is bad, subpar, which then goes into blends, likely also those liqueurs, etc.) But a whisky blended with additives may taste very good, but is NOT whisky!

Some might point out the addition of E150 colorant to Scotch and Irish and Canadian whisky and I agree! While I do still drink some of them, I tend to prefer the uncolored versions whenever I can afford them.

This is also why to me certain Canadian bottlings are not true whisky, if they contain "up to 10%" of flavorings (but I think US law requires that it be disclosed, no?). Yes, there are excellent Canadian WHISKEYS (I like Lot No. 40 and Forty Creek and I hear WhistlePig 10 is good), but there are also what I regard as liqueurs. Very poor tasting liqueurs. But this is my own opinion, I have no illusions about making this law or imposing this onto a wider audience :) Just sharin', as Ralfy would say.