Big vs little bottles. Prescription booze. We taste Jack Daniel’s 150th anniversary. The Jack Daniel’s mash bill is…… Lisa’s a marketing genius. We make a Last Word Cocktail. “Now I’m not impressed.”
Frey Ranch Distilling, near Reno, Nevada, is a near-200-year-old family farm that began distilling in 2010. One of the few “estate” producers in the U.S., the ranch’s current caretakers Colby and Ashley Frey oversee production of everything in each bottle of Frey Ranch products, including growing and farming all of the grains.
I has an opportunity to taste both their vodka and gin. Frey Ranch Vodka is unique in it’s ingredients, using 4 grains in the distillate: corn, rye, wheat and barley. Its typical of a vodka to use one of these grains, usually corn, sometimes wheat, and only occasionally rye or barley. The end result, then, is an earthy, balanced, fresh and clean-tasting. Frey Ranch Vodka retails for $23.
Frey Ranch Gin is distilled from Frey grain, too, then blended with estate-grown juniper berries and sagebrush with other botanicals sourced from around the world. The Fray’s Gin has a nice bite (it’s 90 proof) and an expected juniper note, with sweet sap and floral notes in the midpalate and a long finish with clove and anise spices. It’s bold enough to hold up in a Gin and Tonic, though delicate enough to make a solid Martini as well. Frey Ranch Gin retails for $35.
Like their vodka, some varieties of the soon-to-be-released Frey Ranch Whiskies will contain all four of these grains in the mashbill, plus their take on ryes, bourbons, and more. Their whiskey products are currently being aged, to be released in the coming years.
There is a real value in controlling all aspects of the production of a spirit, including the moment the seeds are planted for the grains, and the Frey family is working hard to make a solid product that’s both unique and versatile enough to make great classic cocktails, plus the price is hard to beat when you consider the work that’s gone in to it’s production.
For more details on the Frey farm and history of the family, check out my friend Geoff Kleinman’s visit to Frey Ranch at Drink Spirits.
Knob Creek is a familiar name for whiskey drinkers and widely available. Here we’ll add another brand to our long-running Walk the Line series with Knob Creek, a Jim Beam brand (now owned by Suntory) and one of the best-selling “small batch” lines at Beam. Bourbon Curious, my bourbon reference bible, places Knob Creek’s line with the cinnamon-forward bourbons, like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Four Roses, most of which are my favorite bourbons, so Knob Creek is in good company in my liquor cabinet.
Here are some notes on each, pictured from left to right above:
Knob Creek Bourbon. 100 proof, about $35. For a 100-proof bourbon, Knob Creek is surprisingly sweet and smooth. The mashbill isn’t released by the company, but I’m assuming it’s a pretty typical corn/rye/barley, maybe wheat. The blend is balanced and cool, with just a mild touch of rye spiciness to it. This is a 9 year old bourbon.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon. 120 proof, about $45. Similar in taste to the staple bourbon, S.B.R. is a touch spicier and has a more pronounced barrel flavor. It’s not uncommon to find a “high-end” high-proof bourbon these days, but for $45, this is a bargain as well.
Knob Creek Rye. 100 proof, about $40. I love the bite of a high-rye whiskey, and Knob Creek isn’t quite that. Hear me out, though: this is a rye that I really love to drink. Again, Knob Creek’s mashbills are secret, but many (including me) suspect it’s just a reversed version of the bourbon recipe. That is to say, this is not the 95% or 100% rye mashbill that some others brag on, but this whiskey is a balanced experience with the right amount of sweet and spice and ultimately, it’s a sipper with a little more character than the spice bombs out there. Knob Creek’s ryes don’t currently have an age statement, they just say “patiently aged.”
Today our friend and self-made Scotch expert Mark Griffith joins us for scotch tastings! We taste Suntory Toki, The Dalmore 18 and Ardbeg Dark Cove. Hear about distillery field trips, distilling regions of Scotland, and more. Here’s a list (and discussion) of caramel coloring in Scotch.
I’m going to jump right in to this: Collingwood is unlike any other whisky I’ve tasted.
A Canadian whisky (which explains excluding the “e” from whisky), Collingwood is distilled from corn, rye (a staple of Canadian whiskys) and barley, finished in oak barrels, then rested additionally with toasted maplewood staves.
It must be this final step of the aging process that adds the uniqueness to Collingwood’s flavor profile. I’ve passed it around to friends who are whisky fans, and the results and preferences have been mixed. The nose of Collingwood is sweet, but the flavor and finish are unexpectedly sweet and sharp, and we gathered it’s the maplewood finish that’s contributing to that (oak is far-and-away the wood preference over maple when it comes to whisky). I felt it tasted like a quick-aged whisky, which usually involves smaller barrels or additional wood added to the aging process. Friends noted the unusual finish, too.
What we did learn at about the halfway point of the bottle, and after several weeks of trying it out, is that Collingwood seems to go better in cocktails than as a straight sipper. The flavor profile never quite delivered with the whisky-drinkers in my camp, but a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour with Collingwood were some tasty cocktails that tended to be incrementally sweeter than their bourbon or rye counterparts. The Sour in particular seemed a great fit for this whisky.
Collingwood retails for about $30 per bottle.
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.