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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part III: The Firebird and The Heron

(Monday, Part 1, link)
(Tuesday, Part 2, link)

Part 3 of 4

Almost two liters of ruined Scotch whisky sat in bottles, awaiting demise.  I awoke one more morning during the week following my failure, still disappointed that my experiment had added up to a lot of bitter brown fluid.  Driving out to the gym, I decided I'd just dump the whisky down the kitchen sink when I got home.  While cranking through my hour of cardio at the gym, my mind drifted (as it often does) to things anti-exercise.  I was thinking of buying a super cheap bourbon and infusing it with a split vanilla bean for one week to try to create a vanilla-bomb dessert bourbon.

But then I realized, why buy a bourbon?  I had a load of unpleasant whisky at hand.  We already had vanilla beans here.  Then I remembered the Armangnac cherries I'd made (a whole other story) last year.  Those were a success.  In the 'gnac and sugar reduction, I had used a cinnamon stick and some whole cloves.  Then I started thinking about fruit......I seem to be finding lots of citrus peel notes in the whiskies I've been reviewing.  So I could throw in some orange peel scrapings too in order to bring that part out.

But those were a lot of ingredients to infuse, possibly resulting in a jumble of flavors.  So I could split the experiment up.  If I set aside 200mL of the whisky fail for historical purposes, I would be left with two 750mL bottles of a whisky base.  I had two never-used clean 375mL bottles, so I could take one of the 750s and split it in two in order to see if this would even work.  One infusion would be a simple half vanilla bean (scored lengthwise) and a whole cinnamon stick.  The other infusion would be the busy one, a half vanilla bean (scored lengthwise), a whole cinnamon stick, four whole cloves, and a little bit of orange peel.

The infusions started that day:

I read some online suggestions about infusion times, but most folks were infusing vodka and gin.  My whisky was much less neutral and I anticipated that it might need a little more of a boost.  So I gave the bottles one week.

And the results were intense.

Vanilla Bean and Cinnamon Stick infusion
Nose -- Cinnamon! Fresh zucchini bread. Vanilla cookies.
Palate -- Woo. Spicy. Not much malt, maybe some dark rum. Chocolate. Lots of candied ginger. Cinnamon overwhelms the vanilla. Crazy spice heat, yummy  <-- technical terminology

Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon Stick, Whole Cloves, and Orange Peel infusion
Nose -- Orange then cloves then cinnamon then vanilla. Bold and perfumy. Juicy Fruit gum.
Palate -- Less spice, more fruit that the other one.  Mostly orange and cinnamon.  Cloves hit in the finish.  Vanilla drifts around the edges.

That color you see in the jars there, that's not a lighting issue.  The infusions were dark red.  And their flavors were just as vivid.  And they were good.  Probably a bit strong.  If I could reduce the character, I wouldn't do so by one full step, instead maybe a half step.  I already knew what to do: Refill infusions.

I took the second 750mL bottle of whisky base and split it between the two bottles with the same used infusion elements.  This time, I gave the two "refill" infusions five days rather than seven.

Vanilla Bean and Cinnamon Stick infusion, part 2
Nose -- Cinnamon is still in first, but the vanilla is more present now than before. More rum and whisky notes. Curiously, some lime peel too.
Palate -- More whisky. And better whisky. Creamy texture. Cinnamon remains the strongest link. Less ginger, but now some mint. There's still a touch of bitterness from the oak.

Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon Stick, Whole Cloves, and Orange Peel infusion, part 2
Nose -- Same order as before: Orange-Cinnamon-Clove-Vanilla. Orange remains very strong. The cloves and cinnamon seem to have fused into a single note. Something about this feels more like rum than whisky.
Palate -- Mostly orange and cinnamon. A little whisky in the mix. That hint of bitterness in the finish, as with the other one. But it's still pleasant overall. Less aromatic in the mouth than in the nose. Hints of malt make it more like whisky than rum.

Yep, still a little bit of whisky in there, yet also loads of infusion character.

Having mixed a little of the opposing infusions together, I realized that sort of blending added nothing to either.  They would stand on their own.  So, I combined like with like in the 750mL bottles.

courtesy of Kristen
The Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Stick infused blended whisky is named The Firebird, after the mythical bird of rebirth which goes by many names in different European cultures and is also referenced (as "Chol") in the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job.  There is a well-known cinnamon-flavored-whiskey in the market at the moment with a name similar to The Firebird.  Let's just say that my version is a more graceful and layered, yet no less fully flavored, rendition of that popular flavored-whiskey's approach.

How about some official tasting notes, after two weeks in the bottle:
Color -- Cherry red
Nose -- Not just cinnamon (though there's plenty of that), but loads of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  Hints of vanilla and honeyed Speyside-style whisky.
Palate -- Spicy but never too sweet.  A little bit of green herbs and grass clippings.  Cinnamon and pepper largely keep the oak at bay.
Finish -- A soft bitterness mingles with cinnamon and vanilla.

courtesy of Kristen
The Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Stick & Whole Clove & Orange Peel infused blended whisky is named The Heron, after Bennu the Egyptian deity associated with rebirth.  The Heron is unmistakably related to The Firebird, but keeps busy with more spice box elements and a burst of orange oil.

Official tasting notes:
Color -- Crimson mahogany
Nose -- Intense orange peel meets a clove-cinnamon fusion. Maybe a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. Juicy Fruit gum. And maybe maybe a hint of peat smoke.
Palate -- Starts big on the orange peel, shifts to vanilla, then explodes with clove, as cinnamon gumdrops linger behind.  It gives the impression that its going to be sugary but never gets too candied.  A moment of oak is carried away by the cinnamon.
Finish -- A cinnamon stick floating in a floral tea.

THANK YOU to my beautiful wife, Kristen, for creating those two labels.  They're better than my whisky infusions!  As a result, she has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of D4P Distillers.

My infusions could be utilized as whiskies for people who are afraid of whisky; those folks who run to heavily-flavored artificially-sweetened watered-down versions of sorta-whisky so they can do some shots.  But The Firebird and The Heron should be sipped (even though they bring with them a higher ABV) and I think they would be more appealing to whisky fans than most flavored-whiskies on the market.  My infusions will still freshen your breath and get you tipsy if that's what you want, but there's much more to them to appreciate.

The Firebird and The Heron are far from what was planned.  But as the plans crumbled, I embraced improvisation and was rewarded with madness in a bottle.  Two bottles.