I haven’t done one of these in a while, as I needed to take a break from whiskey after going non-stop on them for nearly two months straight. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the recent trips abroad and at home, but too much of a good thing will quickly become a bad thing. Thus, the break. Meanwhile, I’m still putting in about 1000 words a day for the book, and will soon start the final editing process before handing off to my agent and publisher. But I’ll talk about the book later.
I got to taste this whiskey first hand at a visit to Heaven Hill, where Lynne and Dan led Krysta and myself in our own tasting event. Out of the several bourbons tasted, this is the one I migrated to, even though it was at cask strength.
What I’m about to say will likely tick a few whiskey folks off, but meh, I don’t think I’ve ever been too concerned about that. Cask strength whiskey is essentially a whiskey that has not had water added to it after aging. As a whiskey ages, a fair amount of evaporation occurs (to the tune of 2% a year), most of that water. So the whiskey will be stronger coming out of cask than it was going in.
This has become, what’s known in the marketing biz, a “thing”. Something to which they can upsell and mark-up the price of the whiskey by a few dollars and get even more profit from the customer.
The problem lies in the fact that, depending upon a consumers taste buds, alcohol is an anesthetic. Too high of a proof, and the taste buds, and nasal receptors literally become numb. And when these become numb, tasting…true tasting…becomes nigh impossible. The only way to rectify this is to add water to the whiskey, and bring it down to a point where the alcohol doesn’t numb the senses.
However, there are a few knuckleheads out there who don’t understand the above issue. So when water is added to a whiskey, they look at you as if you just spat upon a holy book. To them, let me say this clearly…if you want to taste a cask strength whiskey, you almost always have to add water. (As a side note, I’ve talked and drank with dozens of whiskey professionals, from master distillers to professional tasters to whiskey shop owners. Every single one of them added some water to their drinks. Not a one of them ever drank it straight. Of course the amount of water differed, but water was always added. Take that, you “purists”.)
So what is the big deal surrounding cask strength whiskeys? From my experience, once you deal with the excess alcohol, what is there is a whiskey that is far more complex in flavors than what one typically finds on the shelf of your liquor store. This is why I think that “Cask Strength” whiskeys deserve attention, not because they are a higher proof.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon was the whiskey that caught my attention while at Heaven Hill, and I had no problem in shelling out the $120 dollars for a bottle. I find that some bourbons push their oak-y flavors too far, and in fact, many distilleries strive to keep their spirits out of the barrels due to this same fear. This bottle pushes that time limit as far as it could go, without becoming excessively woody in it’s flavor. Oak flavors are there, at least a little, but with them was a nice cola undercurrent, with a little raisin and of course the ever present dark sweetness that bourbons are known for. It wasn’t overly sweet, nor dry, and struck a real nice balance upon my palate.
Out of the several bourbons we had whilst in Kentucky, this was the one of three that stood out. I’ll get to the second and third in different posts.
If you have the money, and don’t mind working with Cask Strength Whiskeys, I recommend Parker’s Heritage Collection.