Peter Currie from Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Limited and Alistair Walker from The Ben Riach Distillery Co. Ltd. were both on hand to talk about some of the rare whiskies from their esteemed liquor portfolios.The men are in town to promote their respective brands during Chicago WhiskyFest.
To understand whisky and why these brands are so special, first one needs to know how whisky is made. Whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks These casks can be charred before the process to add a smoky, rich flavor but this must be decided at the beginning of the casking process. Scotch whiskies use peat smoke to treat their malt, giving Scotch its distinctive smoky flavour.
Most whiskies are blended, meaning that these whiskies are made from several different casks. What makes the Duncan Taylor and Ben Riach distillery companies so special is that these family-owned business do not use several casks. Each bottle is the straight flavor and created from each single cask. Each bottle of a single-barrel whisky is from an individual cask, and the bottles are labelled with specific barrel and bottle numbers. The taste of these whiskies may vary substantially from cask to cask within a brand.
“We give people the opportunity to taste the flavor components,” Currie said. “To taste the whisky for what it really is.” “We also take the more traditional approach,” Walker continued. “We do not add any kinds of additives to the flavor.” There is a process called “chill filtering”. This process is done with a lot of major brand liquors, additives are added to give the liquor a clear look on the shelves.
Just a couple of tips when thinking of purchasing a whisky. Decide what type of flavor you want. Taste can range from light and fruity to a smoky, flavorful base. “Those in cherry casks can have a bigger, richer taste,” Walker said. If you decide you want a rich taste, you can pick one that has a smoky, burning heat taste. That comes from the peat smoke. For this, I tried the BenRiach Single Malt aged 21 years. The initial taste was very smooth and left me feeling very warm. The aftertaste also lingered for a bit of time. “We always make sure to leave these kinds of whiskies for last because that taste will overwhelm all other whiskies,” Walker said.
The next step is that if you decide that you want a sweeter taste. Pick which sweet flavor you would want. If you decide to want to have more a vanilla flavor, look for your whisky to be made in an American oak cask. If you decide that licorice, raisin or a dried fruit is more of what you’re looking for, oak casks that have previously held sherry and the like are more up your alley. For a sweeter whisky, I tried the Duncan Taylor Ben Nevis Single Malt aged 15 years. It left such a light taste, it would taste excellent alone.
Also keep note of the age of the whisky. “The older the whisky, the smoother it will become,” Currie explained. Also, fun tip: If you have less than 1/3 of a bottle left of whisky, transfer that to a smaller bottle. Because of all the air in the bottle, this could cause the whisky to alter in taste due to the oxidation.
These whiskies are available in all esteemed liquor stores, such as Warehouse Liquors and Binny’s around the nation. If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket, stop by and say hi to them at WhiskyFest at the Hyatt Regency tonight! Price points for each whisky bottle varies from about $40 to $100. Special and limited editions will also vary drastically in price. Try one, I know you won’t be disappointed!
– Taneisha Jordan
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