Dylan tries some heavy metal Credit: Heaven’s Door Spirits
Dylan tries some heavy metal
Credit: Heaven’s Door Spirits

Neat Stuff 23: Bob Dylan’s whiskey, Chinese Scotch and new-generation drams

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A couple of years ago we saw Bob Dylan play. As the rumpled music legend and his ace band ripped through barely recognizable takes on his own classics, plus old-school standards, he didn’t say a word. Really, Bob? OK, you’re still the greatest songwriter of the 20th century, with a Nobel Prize in Literature to boot, even if you couldn’t be bothered to pick up your award.

And lately, Dylan, 77, hasn’t let us down in the whiskey department. Through his partnership with Heaven’s Door Spirits, he’s launched a premium line that includes a Tennessee bourbon aged for at least 10 years. Reviewers have been kind to these whiskies, whose bottles feature reproductions of his ironwork. (Yeah, he’s good with his hands, too.) True to recent form, though, Dylan promoted his bourbon on Jimmy Fallon without uttering a syllable.

Hot stuff Credit: Heaven’s Door Spirits
Hot stuff
Credit: Heaven’s Door Spirits

That way, down Highway 61

But wait, there’s more. In fall 2020, the man who dropped Nashville Skyline 50 years ago is opening the Heaven’s Door Distillery and Center for the Arts in Music City. Besides a distillery that will produce whiskey now made elsewhere, expect a concert hall, restaurant, whiskey library and gallery, Rolling Stone reports. As Dylan sings in “Cold Irons Bound,” the whiskey’s in the jar and the money’s in the bank.

Great leap forward? Credit: Diageo and Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery Co.
Great leap forward?
Credit: Diageo and Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery Co.

Meal ticket: A Chinese whiskey with Scottish characteristics

Distillers from the U.S. and Japan teamed up for a cross-border whiskey, so why not China and Scotland? Diageo and Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery Co., China’s No 3. maker of the clear spirit baiju, recently announced the launch of Zhong Shi Ji. Master Scotch blender Craig Wallace and baiju guru Zhou Xinhu created the new whiskey, billed as “a premium taste of East and West.” Details are sketchy, but Chinese ceramic pots come into play.

Baiju is the clear winner with Chinese drinkers Credit: China Culture Corner
Baiju is the clear winner with Chinese drinkers
Credit: China Culture Corner

Dinner and drinks

No wonder Diageo wants to tap China: it’s the world’s largest booze market, with sales of $178 billion* in 2017, according to data provider ISWR. Baiju dominates, while Scotch and other international spirits account for just 3%, leaving plenty of room for growth.

The goal is to get Chinese consumers to crack a bottle of Zhong Shi Ji at mealtime, when they’re most likely to drink. Save us a seat, and ganbei!

*All figures in U.S. dollars

Going with the grain Credit: Gooderham & Worts
Going with the grain
Credit: Gooderham & Worts

The Neat Stuff guide: New-generation whiskies worth seeking out

by Charlene Rooke – @packlight

When you took your very first sip of coffee or beer, you might have thought, Do people actually like drinking this stuff? Same goes for the first whiff of a campfire-smoky Scotch, the oak-smoothed bite of bourbon on the palate or the unexpected spicy fire of a rye whiskey. We don’t know about you, but we’ve learned to love those things.

Recently, whiskey makers in several countries have started crafting spirits that are more approachable in subtle ways, appealing to all kinds of drinkers—not just whiskey nerds.

Some use a tasty mix of various grains, like Gooderham & Worts Four Grain, a corn, rye, wheat and barley offering. They might roam beyond traditional oak-barreling, as is the case with Collingwood Blended Canadian Whisky, aged with sugar maple wood. Or, like Monkey Shoulder blended Scotch, maybe they combine carefully finessed whiskies. Although each nation has its own rules about what defines a certain style, today’s whiskey makers seem freer to experiment.

Compass Box is headed in the right direction Credit: Compass Box Whisky
Compass Box is headed in the right direction
Credit: Compass Box Whisky

All in good taste

It helps that imbibers have changed, too. The craft beer boom has created a thirst for complex flavors, like the bitterness of hops or the mocha appeal of a stout: enter Jameson Caskmates, an Irish whiskey aged in beer barrels. Similarly, the mixology renaissance has stirred a new appreciation of whiskey, especially bourbon and rye, the star of many classic cocktails.

In the past few years, suddenly the random person next to you at the bar was ordering Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and knew the difference between Oban 14- and 18-year Scotch, and was willing to pay for it. Experts started to predict shortages of ultra-aged whiskey—brands can’t suddenly make more barrels of decades-old elixir, after all.

Fortunately, the result has been innovation, not crisis. Rogue Scotch blender Compass Box Whisky, founded in 2000 by a former American Johnnie Walker executive, helped kick-start an evolution (and some industry controversy). London-based Compass Box blended but didn’t distill its own spirits. It created and named its Scotch by flavor profile (The Spice Tree and Enlightenment), not just by age statement, or the number on a bottle of aged whiskey.

Just add ginger ale Credit: Kilbeggan Distilling Co.
Just add ginger ale
Credit: Kilbeggan Distilling Co.

Spoiled for choice

Spirits that taste great neat or on the rocks, mix beautifully in cocktails and are accessible—in both price and style—are good news for whiskey lovers. Whatever your fancy, there’s a new drink. For example, the term “bou-rye” was coined to describe whiskies that happily marry corn-based (bourbon) and rye-based spirits.

Dark Horse, the deeply bourbon barrel–aged number from Canadian rye maker Alberta Premium, is the ultimate choice when you can’t decide between a rye or bourbon Manhattan. Some Scottish distillers have taken inspiration from their U.S. colleagues, aging single-malt barley spirit solely in bourbon casks, which get used only once in America.

For cocktail fans, an “overproof” whiskey (with more alcohol by volume than the typical 40-43%, or 80-86 proof) allows for the dilution that comes from properly stirring cocktails or shaking them with ice, still resulting in a bold flavor. Kentucky bourbon Wild Turkey 101 declares its higher proof right in its name. Irish whiskey, always popular as a sipping spirit, has become a cocktail star with the launch of blends like Kilbeggan 2 Gingers, a highly mixable golden dram that’s great with—no surprise!—ginger ale.

The current craze in Japan for simple but perfect highballs—think a lemon-twist-accented Scotch and soda—calls for a light, aromatic Japanese blend like the new Toki. A blended Scotch such as Monkey Shoulder, with a classic Scotch flavor profile but no heavy smoke or peat flavors, is a ringer in cocktails like the Penicillin and the Rusty Nail.

A Dog that hunts Credit: Irish Distillers
A Dog that hunts
Credit: Irish Distillers

The truth about single malt

Now that we mention it, blending is having a revival: products like Jameson Blender’s Dog are drawing fresh attention to the whiskey blender’s art. “Single malt,” by the way, might be the most misunderstood term in the whiskey world: “single” refers to a whiskey’s origin from one distillery, “malt” to a 100% malted barley whiskey. But nearly all single malts are blends of various distillations and casks, not the product of “one single malt” or batch.

Whether you’re intrigued by what goes into making a complex spirit or just love the taste of what’s in your glass, there’s never been a better moment to become a whiskey drinker. It just might also be the best time in history to try something new.

As Canadian as the Maple Leaf Credit: Collingwood
As Canadian as the Maple Leaf
Credit: Collingwood

Go on, bet you can’t try just one

Monkey Shoulder (Scotland)

It smells like a basket of fresh-picked apples and tastes like butterscotch. This blended Scotch has a pleasantly fresh, green note that lingers.

Auchentoshan American Oak (Beam Suntory, Scotland)

A wonderful, almost bitter grip of American oak aging on the sides of the tongue turns to the smooth and sweet vanilla finish you’d expect from a bourbon barrel–aged Scotch.

Jameson Caskmates (Ireland)

A gold color and lightly toasted, honeyed scent belie the milk-chocolatey taste of this stout barrel–aged whiskey. Beer lovers might even taste slightly bitter hops.

Dark Horse (Canada)

There’s a whiff of fruitcake (molasses, spice, candied citrus) on the nose. A gorgeously auburn-colored rye, it has a round, salted-caramel flavor.

Collingwood Toasted Maplewood Mellowed (Canada)

Orange marmalade and a hint of maple syrup smell like breakfast. Loads of cookie spice and a long, sweet finish make a memorable tawny whiskey.

Wild Turkey 101 (U.S.)

The overproof version of this old-school bourbon has dark-amber color, a heady toffee scent and a bold, peppery flavor that holds up well in cocktails.

Toki (Japan)

The appealing straw color and crisp green apple fragrance give way to complex flavors of grapefruit and lightly woody cedar. It has a sweet and soft finish.

 

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