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On Oak and the meaning of life...

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On Oak and the meaning of life...

Postby Drrich1965 » Mon Oct 02, 2006 10:53 pm

Hello whisk(e)y drinkers,

As a malt lover of only a few years, I am new to the world of whisk(e)y. Recently, I have begun to explore the world of American Whiskey, Bourbon in particular. While I am starting to warm up to it, I am finding myself still struggling with the intensity of the oak. In the world of malt, we would say that any single malt that approached the level of oakyness, say, of this Elijah Craig 12 year old in my hand, would be flawed. For instance, my birthday malt two years ago was a Macillops choice 1965, 37yo Strathisla. While I enjoyed it for sentimental reasons, it was dominated by oak and sherry; very little malt character remained. As I sip this bourbon, I am aware that many other flavors are competing with the oak, vanilla and some chewy toffee type notes, something citrusy. Yet, that oak is so big!! So, my question? Is it enough to say that the big oak is part of the point, and therefore to be part of the manner in which the whiskey is evaluated, or can we make objective comparisons between types? How do we excuse excessive oak in one and not the other? I know there are several implicit questions here, and I know that one of the answers is to just enjoy it for what it is, and to keep working at appreciating the tastes (what I say to those new to malt).

Looking for dialogue...

Rich
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Oct 05, 2006 11:22 pm

Good question - and to one I have nothing but unqualified quesses to offer. But I wonder if scotch - as in single malt - is more dominated by fatty or buttery tones than bourbon in general (I'm only guessing) and maybe it wouldn't benefit from oak. I don't know much about bourbon but I think some of the older ones and typically the small batch bourbons are more dominated by wood than their younger counterparts. I don't know what bourbon without the "woodiness" would be because I think they are by law required to age the spirit for at least 2 years (thanks for letting me know Di Blasi) in fresh white oak?
Does anyone know if there are types outside bourbon country with similar distillate but without the oak presence?
I think TNbourbon could help here...

I think many single malt drinkers also feel the strong oak and vanilla presence a little too strong and hence stay away from borboun. Maybe they also feel the same about very old single malts with strong oaky tones?

Your second question - " the meaning of life" - is much easier to answer! Happiness of course - maybe even through whisky 8)
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Oct 07, 2006 10:55 am

Many SMW drinkers would (pardon the pun :oops: ) say that excessive (though quite subjective to the individual drinker) oak indicates a flaw in the whisky and it has been left in the cask too long before bottling. Others, however, like it. The same aplies to wine. We see numerous "unoaked" vattings nowadays to suit differing palates.

The effect of oak on spirit is a mysterious thing and the flavour generated by the interaction of the two is still unfathomable. Every cask has its own characteristics and we should not underestimate the skill of the master distiller in identifying when a cask is ready to be used.

American oak and European oak are completely different animals of course and distilleries use both to create a particular house style. What is clear, however, is that the distiller is looking for balance and oak/woody notes are part of the mix.

In this day and age and with profit and loss playing such a major part in whisky production, I suggest that if you get oak on the palate, you are probably meant to. Look at the efforts of Bill Lumsden and Glenmoragie to get the right wood to hold their whisky. If you get oak in Glenmorangie, it's because over 10 years of work has gone into making sure it's there.
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Postby hpulley » Sat Oct 07, 2006 11:23 am

Perhaps that's why most bourbons seem quite similar to me. I get sweetness (from the maize I guess) and wood flavours mostly which make them seem rather two dimensional compared to what I get from many malt scotch whiskies which may have some sweetness (though less obvious with malt instead of maize) and wood but usually so much more to my tastes (which will undoubtedly be different than everyone else's). With at least a few years in new wood it is hard not to pick up those characteristics. Employing used wood in a colder, wetter climate, scotch whisky doesn't get nearly the wood influence of bourbon though some are experimenting with a least a quick finish in new wood; still I don't know of any scotches which spend 2 years in new wood.

I can say I don't excuse overwooded whiskies no matter what is their origin.

Harry
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Re: On Oak and the meaning of life...

Postby bamber » Sat Oct 07, 2006 11:27 am

Hi Rich,

I think describing the contribution of the barrel simply as oak is an over simplification. Heavily charred virgin barrels are necessarily much more active than second hand ones. However the nature of their interaction with the spirit is different.

For me good bourbon is about big clean bold flavours. I think the corn and rye ballance perfectly with the oaky vanilla flavours in EC 12yo. If a single malt had been treated so harshly, then yes perhaps the oak would dominate, but to my taste it does not in this bourbon (I would love to taste a few sms's aged this way though).

I guess the bottom line is that I just really love the taste of aged bourbon ! I think the caramelised oak and vanilla go perfectly with the sweet oily corn and fruity peppery rye.

I'm sitting here racking my brain trying to think of a less oaky bourbons, but my favourites are no help. The Buffalo Trace stuff is more woody (> tannins in particular) than Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey make just about the biggest bourbons around.

Perhaps Maker's Mark or Four Roses SB might be more your thing ?
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Re: On Oak and the meaning of life...

Postby Drrich1965 » Sat Oct 07, 2006 12:06 pm

bamber wrote:Hi Rich,

I think describing the contribution of the barrel simply as oak is an over simplification. Heavily charred virgin barrels are necessarily much more active than second hand ones. However the nature of their interaction with the spirit is different.

For me good bourbon is about big clean bold flavours. I think the corn and rye ballance perfectly with the oaky vanilla flavours in EC 12yo. If a single malt had been treated so harshly, then yes perhaps the oak would dominate, but to my taste it does not in this bourbon (I would love to taste a few sms's aged this way though).

I guess the bottom line is that I just really love the taste of aged bourbon ! I think the caramelised oak and vanilla go perfectly with the sweet oily corn and fruity peppery rye.

I'm sitting here racking my brain trying to think of a less oaky bourbons, but my favourites are no help. The Buffalo Trace stuff is more woody (> tannins in particular) than Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey make just about the biggest bourbons around.

Perhaps Maker's Mark or Four Roses SB might be more your thing ?


Thanks for the response (everyone). I actaully am starting to like the EC 12 more and more; I think it isa mater of understading the flavor profile. I place the blame on my shoulders, not on the Bourbon. I did like the A.H. Hirsh 18 year old a great deal; more complex and satisfying. I am working on it, and just wanted to put this out here for discusion. Thanks for playing along.
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