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Monday, September 29, 2014

Further failures in bourbon blending......

(Yes, I'm aware that these aren't all bourbons, but I was looking for lazy alliteration.)

Two weeks ago, I shared with you the brief tale of my solid number two.  I made three whiskies out of Balcones True Blue Cask Strength corn whiskey and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond straight rye.  Whiskey #1 and #3 had their strengths, but their weakness tilted them out of favor.  Whiskey #2, an ultra-high rye bourbon, was good enough to bottle 600mL worth.

On September 2nd, I took the last dribbles of the Balcones True Blue CS, the remainder of the Koval Dark Millet, and some of the Koval Dark Rye whiskey (each 100% one grain) and did two experimental blends.  The idea was to create a bourbon and a rye, but using the extra light millet grain whiskey rather than a malted barley whiskey as the third grain in each.

On the surface it sounds relatively harmless, but there were two issues floating above the experiments.  Firstly, these were all super young whiskies that displayed nearly no maturation characteristics.  Secondly, I didn't particularly care for the way any of them tasted on their own.  There were positives in their noses, but not in the palates.  With my previous whiskies, #1, #2, and #3, at least I had Rittenhouse BiB bringing a little bit of age and luscious flavor to the mix.

#4 - Goal: Design a 51%-corn bourbon.  Result: Due to adjustments I had to make to take into consideration the whiskies' alcohol strengths as well as the microscopic milliliter adjustments, I had to settle for a 52%-corn bourbon.  Curses!

Approximate resulting mashbill: 52/24/24 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 47.4%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Turpentine, caramel, vodka, corn, apple-flavored candy.  Lightly smoky.  But that's before I air it out.  After giving it 20+ minutes in a covered glass something awful began to happen.  While it still smelled of caramel and sugar, a massive note of rotten fish began to emerge.  And it wouldn't go away.  Either it absorbed something weird from the air or I crossed the streams.
Palate -- Corn, apple juice, vodka, and paper. With the extra time in the glass it improved slightly, with some more sweetness and bitterness.  But it never reaches a drinkable quality.
Finish -- More paper.  Very drying.  With air it becomes chemically bitter.

Verdict:  Wow.  Bad.  I could not finish it.  Worse than the sum of its parts.

#5 - Goal: Design a rye with Rittenhouse's mashbill (37/51/12), substituting millet for barley.  Result: Due to the structural issues mentioned in #4's, I got pretty darn close

Approximate resulting mashbill: 37.6/52.6/9.8 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 45.1%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Less ugly than #4.  A little bit of rye spice sneaks in.  Some flower blossoms.  Vanilla.  Vodka.  Lots of corn pushes past the other elements.  With 20+ minutes in the glass there isn't much change.  Might be a little more sugary.
Palate -- Lots of bitterness.  No sweetness whatsoever.  Corn, paper (again), bland vegetation.  Very light, almost like a Canadian blend.  With time no major flavors develop.  Sort of semi-bitter / semi-sweet.  Sort of drinkable.
Finish -- Paper, corn, imitation vanilla extract, some bitterness and caramel.  Nothing changes with time.

Verdict:  Better than #4, but I still wouldn't drink it if it were free.

Both of these blends were crappy, though on different levels.  Aside from the bizarre rotten note, what was most disappointing was the feeling that in both instances I was drinking paper-flavored vodka (attention: makers of Cupcake Vodka...).  For a moment I considered blending #4 and #5 together, but then I decided that the whole thing needed to end promptly because...

The main lesson I learned from this blending experience is to not expect to suddenly create something good from elements one doesn't like in the first place.  Quality ingredients are the key to great dishes and cocktails.  Having at least one decent whisk(e)y may also be required in a blend.  So it's likely that one won't be able to salvage a bad whiskey by adding another one to it and then another one.

This week we'll see if professional blenders did a better job than I with the young whiskies they had at hand.


  1. Do you still have that mini-barrel? I would use Ralfy's method and cut one of the staves to fit inside the bottle (preferably after you've toasted the oak a bit). Even though the barrel has done its duty, you might be able to get something out of the wood still.

    1. I'd considered that, but the staves were thickly coated on the outside with some sort of lacquer. I will attempt the Ralfy experiment someday, but I want to be certain that it's oak and only oak that's chillin' in my whisky.