For the whisk(e)y drinker, we have hit a point on the calendar where you may be looking for a change. Spring is great for that; after all, the season represents rebirth and youthful exuberance. You have to see how our small shore town in southeastern Connecticut has suddenly come alive with people out walking or running much more. The raw gray days are slowly being replaced by sunny skies and gentle warmth.
Of course in other parts of the country, you guys are rocketing toward summer and might already be in a different mindset. With today's goal being to show you a way to transition from deeper, heavier winter whiskies to livelier but still flavorful versions, I may encounter a bit of a challenge in presenting something unifying. As it is, Easter Sunday will be an 80-degree outlier that is followed up by a need for a sweater in the coming days.
Additionally as we have learned here before, whisk(e)y has a wide spectrum of styles to choose from, so again seeking common ground isn't easy. However, there are a few of good rules to follow if you have an open mind and tend to be a seasonal drinker:
1. Go for younger whiskies
With Single Malt Scotch or Irish, 12 years or less is preferred, but some examples could be stretched to 15 years. Younger whiskies tend to have those fresher more vibrant flavors, like grass, flowers, heather, and fresh fruit. Peated whiskies are very pronounced, fiery, and intense on the nose. With demand continuing to skyrocket for premium aged whiskies, look for some No Age Statement single malts (many will be a combo of ages from three to ten years) or some blended whiskies (which will have lighter cereal grains or unmalted barley).
To me, this is one reason why Bourbon is popular; Bourbon tastes really good in its youth thanks to new American oak barrels that impart a ton of flavor very quickly. The base grain of corn leads to soft whiskey with a sweet finish that makes it easy to enjoy young. The combination of these two aspects makes Bourbon taste like Bourbon!
2. Keep an eye out for rye
For American or New World whiskies, seek out Bourbon whiskey with rye heavily involved in the blend (anything upwards of 20% as a little goes a long way) or try a straight rye (where rye makes up at least 51% of the blend), such as Bulleit Rye (a steal at $28). If you have tasted rye bread before, you notice how pungent and distinct it is, but also how flavorful it is without being too dense. That's how rye whiskey presents itself, too.
Good quality Canadian whisky often has a significant proportion of rye, so if you encounter an artisanal product coming from north of the border, give it a shot!
3. Head to Asia
Japan produces whisky along the same rules as a peated Scotch whisky, but rather than a spirit that is rich and malty, flavors are clean and transparent with lots of fresh orchard fruit (apple, peach, and plum come to mind) and a floral character on the nose. Some producers use Japanese oak that increases the floral/perfume character and imparts a little peppery spice. Japan experiments with many grains in blended whiskies, leading to leaner and lighter-bodied spirits. These are all techniques that will provide you with a lively finished product.
Another place to look? Taiwan!
So whether you are a seasonal drinker, or are just looking to change up your stash in the home bar, I have a few ways you can go.
If you want Scotch...
Glenkinchie 12 Year Old ($55-ish): One of the few Lowland distilleries in operation, Glenkinchie's flagship product gives you light citrus, fresh flowers, and a touch of vanilla cream. With a drying, herbal finish this is great with light salty snacks.
Other good choices include Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch ($30), and Glenmorangie Original ($35, a staple which I give to people who claim they don't like Scotch)
If you want Bourbon...
Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey ($28): during a time where Bourbon's popularity is at an all-time high, it's good to see Buffalo Trace hasn't gotten too out-of-control on price. There is noticeable rye on the finish in this otherwise balanced example, but the rye is what we are looking for in the warmer weather. With flavors of vanilla, brown sugar, and fresh oranges, this is a crowd-pleaser.
Other good options include Woodford Reserve ($40, my go-to for the Kentucky Derby) and Basil Hayden's ($45) for their higher rye proportions; Basil Hayden's might be close to one-third rye.
If you want something off the beaten path...
Hibiki Harmony ($66): For the whisky nerds out there, the Harmony has a broad spectrum of gentle flavors and aromas. Delicate and light-bodied, this has tropical and exotic fruit flavors, backed by wild herbs, roses, and a pleasant woodiness. There is an incense-like note on the end that is a signature of the use of Japanese oak. If you can find it, try it!