Category Archives: whiskey

Suntory Toki

suntory toki

Suntory is a legendary Japanese distillery, one of only a handful of whisky makers in that country. They have become famous for quality, well-crafted single malts in the tradition of scotch whisky. Their fame is so solid, in fact, that they were able to purchase Jim Beam in 2014.

This summer, Suntory introduced and affordable whisky blend that’s designed for cocktails. Toki is comprised of 2 Suntory single malt “pillars”: Hakushu (light and fresh) and Chita (heavy grain). These two combine for a flavor that’s malty, crisp, light and sweet with a mild spice finish.

At $40 per bottle and 43% ABV, Toki is a light sipper for the warm months, and goes well neat or on the rocks. It’s malty character is reminiscent to me of Dutch Genever and barley-based Shochu. It pairs well with milder, lighter cigars, sipped neat.

While Toki can be mixed in cocktails any way you choose, Suntory has a specific “ceremony” they recommend for making the Toki Highball (pictured above):

“To begin a highball recipe, fill the glass to the brim with ice. Add one measure of whisky. Stir to cool the whisky and glass. Again add ice to the brim. Pour three measures of chilled sparkling water along the side of the glass to avoid melting the ice or bursting the bubbles. Add a twist of lemon. Enjoy.”

As a cocktail, the Toki Highball is subtle, malty, refreshing and easy to make, and at $40, Toki may serve to be an introductory Japanese whisky if you’re unfamiliar with the category.

Monkey Shoulder Scotch

monkey shoulder scotch

Welcome to the world, Monkey Shoulder, a relatively new scotch brand that you may have seen at your local liquor store as of late (it was introduced in 2005). Master blenders David Stewart and Brian Kinsmen run Monkey Shoulder as a bit of a throwback to the years when blended scotches reigned (as opposed to the many single malts available these days).

Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three Speyside single malts, and while the company won’t say which, the internet consensus is that the malts are Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie. Speyside is the northernmost distilling region of Scotland, and its scotches fall into two flavor profiles, according to The Whiskey Exchange: light and grassy “lunchtime whiskies” or sweet and rich whiskies.

The flavor of Monkey Shoulder is more in line with the second profile, with tasting notes of vanilla, cinnamon and sweet cream. While some scotches are famed for their smokiness, Monkey Shoulder is absent of smoke and peat in exchange for its woody spice and sweet, rich finish.

The name, Monkey Shoulder, is an unusual one for a scotch, whose names often tend toward the exotic or unpronounceable (anCnoc, anyone?). A “monkey shoulder” is a temporary condition that maltmen would develop after a long day of turning barley by hand; another whiskey history throwback for the Monkey Shoulder brand.

For a bottle of quality whisky with a pretty great trio of pewter monkeys perched on it, Monkey Shoulder can be found at a very respectable $30-ish at your local liquor shop. You’ll find the bottle contains a solid blend of quality single malts with a familiar Speyside flavor. In that price range, too, you get a good sipping scotch and one that’s also feasable in cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Rob Roy.

Baker’s Bourbon

bakers bourbon

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to meet Bobby “G,” Beam’s Master Mixologist, and we talked about whiskey and cigar pairings briefly. If you’d like, you can hear that interview on the podcast.

Bobby suggested that Baker’s Bourbon is a great cigar pairing, as the aging for Baker’s puts their barrels higher up in Beam’s rickhouses, creating a rich, bitter and quite spicy bourbon. Baker’s is a 7-year-old, 107 proof bourbon, too, bold enough to pair with even the boldest cigar as well.

Baker’s is shockingly smooth and easy to drink for being 107 proof. I’ve tried it with a bold cigar (Gurkha Red Witch) and a mild cigar (Arturo Fuente Dominican Seconds), and really enjoyed the interplay Baker’s had with both. The Red Witch is flavorful and Gurkhas tend to have lots of smoke output, so it was richness that was the stand-out in this pairing. The Fuente was a milder and earthier smoke, highlighting Baker’s nutmeg flavors. Alone as a nightcap, Baker’s spiciness is exceedingly clear: pepper and nutmeg are the standout flavors.

Baker’s is definitely a cigar smoker’s bourbon and those who prefer their whiskies spicy, like rye drinkers or even Four Roses drinkers, may want to give this bourbon a shot as well.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon

hudson four grain bourbon

The Hudson line of whiskeys are distilled by Tuthilltown Spirits in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Every whiskey they create comes in a half-sized bottle that usually retails for the price of many full-sized craft whiskies. Hudson Four Grain Bourbon retails for about $45.

The 4 grains that go into the mash for this whiskey are corn, rye, wheat and malted barley – all common components of a bourbon, though usually a combination of only 3 of those 4. Hudson uniquely uses very small casks for their whiskeys, I believe maxing out at 14 gallon barrels. This means that Hudson whiskeys receive more barrel exposure than whiskeys in the “standard” bourbon barrel size of 200 liters (53 gallons), and this sets their flavor profile apart from many large-scale whiskies.

Hudson’s Four Grain ends up pretty complex, in fact, complex to the point of being inaccessible to some. HFGB is spicy, earthy, wet and sweet, which are reflections of each of the grains in the mash and the smaller barrels, too. We tried it on the podcast and I offered it to some whiskey-drinking friends, and the feedback went like this: whiskey drinkers/lovers really liked Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. Those who prefer a milder liquor found HFGB to be an overwhelming tasting experience.

So, a bourbon that whiskey lovers love? Seems a wise choice. I made a single cocktail with my bottle of HFGB – by the way, those little bottles go fast – a Manhattan. It was good, but I’d recommend this be reserved strictly as a sipper on ice (or maybe a touch of clean water). Its complexities are really quite a bit to savor, so sipping Husdon Four Grain on its own is my preferred way to drink it.

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

basil haydens

I must confess that Basil Hayden’s has had me a bit dumbfounded since I first broke the seal on this bottle. This is my first time sipping Hayden’s, and so I drank it the way I like to drink lots of my bourbons: with a lot of ice.

I was disappointed. I found it to be watery and extremely mild on my initial tasting of it. Instead of writing off Hayden’s as a bourbon that I don’t like, I began to research it to see how I might be approaching this bourbon wrong.

I had the incredible chance to attend New Mexico Cocktails and Culture this past weekend, and one of the speakers was Beam’s Master Mixologist Bobby G. Basil Hayden’s is a Beam product, so I asked him about it. Bobby told me two things that were helpful: First, Basil Hayden’s is a very mild bourbon, so it should be sipped neat and not on the rocks. Second, it’s the Beam bourbon that has tested to be the most popular with women.

From there, I consulted my favorite bourbon book: Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick. There is a summary of Basil Hayden’s overall: founded in 1992, owner by Beam Suntory, and named after a famous Kentuckian. But then, a little earlier in the book, under Tricks to Getting Used to Bourbon, I read: “My favorite starter bourbon is Basil Hayden’s, because it’s 80 proof and carries some nuances.”

There you go. Basil Hayden’s is a mild, approachable starter bourbon with notes of citrus (especially orange) and mild tea with basically no spice. Enjoying it neat or in a 3:1 Manhattan is a great way to ease someone into the world of bourbon.

Drinking the Derby

four roses and mint julep recipe

The Kentucky Derby is coming up Saturday – a celebratory event which usually marks the arrival of Spring and “spring time” bourbon drinks like the Mint Julep. I have 2 pots of mint in the backyard and they are full and ready to be julep-ized. As a refresher on how to make your own Juleps, you can see my Julep walkthrough here.

According to the Derby, “120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack. That’s a feat that requires more than 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.”

So in light of the coming Derby this weekend, I was excited to receive a care package from Four Roses, one of my personal favorite cinnamon-forward Kentucky bourbons, then a copy of Michael Dietsch’s brand new book Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails, which releases May 17, 2016 [Amazon link].

whiskey by michael dietsch

Much more than just a simple listing of recipes, Deitch devotes several pages to each cocktail and goes into the history and story behind each. It’s a beautiful hardcover book with excellent photography, designed cleanly and well-organized, with a good deal of cocktail pointers (whiskey or not). He says of the Mint Julep:

“With an origin in the 18th century, the boozy julep came along before American whiskey was widely available. And even when American whiskey was more available, the julep had become a drink of the genteel South, and in that time, gentlemen drank brandy and rum, not brash American whiskey.” (pp 103)

Enjoy a Mint Julep and enjoy Derby Day on Saturday! Cheers!

Whiskey Girl Whiskies

whiskey girl whiskies

Whiskey Girl is a line of flavored whiskies from Dark Corner Distillery in South Carolina and designed to appeal to female whiskey lovers. Currently available on the east coast, Whiskey Girl is available in 3 varieties: Apple & Maple, Butterscotch and Peach. Retailing at just under $30 a bottle, we had the opportunity to try both the butterscotch and peach versions of their whiskies on a recent podcast episode.

Based on a whiskey of corn, barley and wheat (without spicy rye), and at 35% alcohol, Whiskey Girl are very mild whiskies, indented to be easy to drink for everyone, I imagine. These are sweetened, too, though the level of sweetness seemed to be dependent on the specific flavor we chose. On the podcast, most drinkers preferred the peach flavor as it has a more whiskey-forward flavor profile and tasted less sweet than the candy-like butterscotch. Peach Whiskey Girl, we figured, would be delicious in iced tea, as it would flavor it, sweeten it, and booze it up.

Cocktails with Whiskey Girl will involve some creativity, but you should probably consider replacing a whiskey liqueur with these, and not a whiskey. I made a Manhattan with Whiskey Girl Peach in the place of rye, and the flavor balance was off. Cocktails with whiskey liqueurs as a ingredient (like Southern Comfort or Drambuie) would be the easiest to swap out for Whiskey Girl, so I tried it in a J.R.’s Revenge cocktail, which is usually made with Southern Comfort:

Butterscotch Revenge

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon
  • 1/4 oz Whiskey Girl butterscotch
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • stir with ice and strain in a chilled cocktail glass

Wine-Finished Whiskies

slaughterhouse whiskey

Recently I discovered a little piece of the whiskey industry and decided to explore it a little bit: wine barrel finished whiskies. The two whiskies I tasted are distilled and aged as whiskey, then re-barreled by Napa Valley wineries in their used wine barrels and aged for a period of time in Napa.

Slaughter House is a product of Splinter Group in Napa, home of the Orin Swift family of wines. For Slaughter House, they barrel a 9-year-old Tennessee whiskey (distilled from 95% corn and 5% wheat) in their Papillon barrels (a red wine blend).

Slaughter House is bold and spicy , with a nose of apricot, berries and caramel followed by a flavor of cinnamon-and-sugar and marzipan. From the flavor of the whiskey, I have trouble detecting the wine’s contribution, though Slaughter House is certainly a solid whiskey when stood alone. With a price in the mid-$30 range, it’s a good buy for a solid spice-heavy 9-year-old whiskey.

amador whiskey

Amador Whiskey Co’s Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of 3-10 year old Kentucky bourbons, then is re-barreled in Napa for 6 months.

Also a mid-$30-priced whiskey, Amador Double Barrel is barreled by the spirits division of Trinchero Family Estates. Chardonnay barrels were used for aging and the wine barrel contribution is much more obvious. It’s nose is floral and sweet corn, with a finish that is crisp and clean, clearly echoing the Chardonnay. Amador has almost no traces of spiciness, and is much milder start-to-finish than Slaughter House. I suspect that this flavor profile could translate to a broader appeal to more drinkers, too (ladies, I’m looking at you).

Whiskey is no stranger to barrel polygamy. Whether it’s something like these wine-barrel finishes, or larger brands like Angel’s Envy (finished in Port barrels) or Balvenie Double Wood, the depth of flavor that gets added through barrel exploration like this makes for some very delicious drinking.

Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Hochstadter’s in Philadelphia has a couple of rye-based drinks that I had the opportunity to try recently. The first is a bottled cocktail that was popular before Prohibition: Rock and Rye. Meant to be drunk neat or on the rocks, Slow & Low Rock and Rye is a base of straight rye whiskey, with added raw Pennsylvania honey, dried naval oranges, rock candy and bitters. Most similar to an Old Fashioned in flavor, the Rock and Rye is a bit more complex than that, I think mostly because the rock candy/honey sweetening components are a tad unfamiliar (maybe old-timey?) in their taste profile.

Slow & Low is not too sweet, though, and is perfectly appropriate for a straight whiskey drinker as it won’t overwhelm with sweetness. Really, the rye remains the most prominent flavor in the mix, with an assortment of milder, underlying flavors to balance out the drink.

At just over $20, this is most definitely a fine bottled cocktail at a great price. If you’d like to hear more about what we thought, we also tasted Slow & Low on a recent podcast episode.

Because of the solid base of rye whiskey in Hochstadter’s Rock and Rye, it’s no surprise that their regular rye whiskey is also an impressive bottle for your shelf. At $35, with a blend of ryes from 4-15 years procured from different parts of North America, Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye is a solid sipper and a strong base for cocktails as well.

A rye of this age and proof (100) should be heartily spicy and solidly tasty, with no evidence of the sour/sweetness of a too-young rye. Gladly, that’s exactly what Hochstadter’s delivers. This is an impressively delicious rye whiskey at a solid proof which will easily compare (and potentially beat) other $35 ryes.

iichiko Kurobin Shochu

iichiko kurobin shochu

Well, this is a first! We have never tasted (or covered) a shōchū here at Simple Cocktails, and it’s fun to continue to explore the world of distilled spirits.

Shōchū is a Japanese spirit distilled from barley, rice, sweet potato or buckwheat. In the case of iichiko, it is distilled from 100% barley, y’know, the same stuff that scotch is distilled from? iichiko retails for $30 and is the best-selling shōchū in Japan. This particular type of iichiko is Kurobin, which means black bottle.

As with anything, it’s always helpful to be able to compare a new distilled spirit to something else, and the best comparison I can make for shōchū is genever, a Dutch spirit which is also sometimes distilled from barley. There are several ways that shōchū is served, including the tea I tried it in, neat or on the rocks. The flavor of shōchū is malty, light and fruity. I tasted it (as pictured above) in the following ratio:

  • 2 oz iichiko Kurobin shōchū
  • 4 oz boiling water
  • 1 tsp sugar (to flavor)

This produces a malty liquor tea with a flavor that’s vaguely reminiscent of a light-tasting high-malt beer. There is a clear asian flavor to shōchū, too, a light freshness that I can’t associate with any particular flavor, but it’s definitely unique and something worth trying.