Hashtags and Picklebacks

The Tasting Samples and Set-Up Photo: PK Read

The Tasting Samples and Set-Up
Photo: PK Read

Hashtag: TweetTasting

Every so often Fortune smiles down upon me and hands me a treat. Last week, the treat came in the form of a tasting across the Internet via Twitter, courtesy of The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines.

With around twenty very game tasters, many of them quite knowledgeable, we cracked five sample drams of American whiskey and shared our thoughts. If I can’t by any stretch of the imagination count myself among the knowledgeable, I was at least as game as anyone else to try the products of my native country.

Like any tasting, sharing the same sample is no guarantee of sharing the same flavor. What’s fascinating about a live online tasting is the range of different subjective impressions, the overlap of impressions, and the complete lack of cues as to what anyone else is thinking until the tweets hit the feed.

Last week I felt very lucky to be able to participate in the #LiquidAmericana, a TweetTasting sponsored by The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines.

By way of example of how diverse the impressions can be, one fellow taster seemed to taste a hint of chocolate in just about everything, but also admitted to suffering from an acute chocolate craving. Another quoted the taste of candies or fruits which were likely spot-on in terms of description, but which tasters outside that country hadn’t ever experienced. One whisky inspired a characterization of strong tea flavours, which a couple of tasters didn’t find no matter how thoroughly they searched their palates.

Image: Luc St. Pierre via National Geographic

Image: Luc St. Pierre via National Geographic

Finally, with a virtual web drumroll, the sample drams were revealed:

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon,

Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon,

Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey,

Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey

High West Double Rye Whiskey

You can visit the TwitterTasting to see what our impressions were of each sample. Personally, I liked the Bernheim Straight Wheat for its sweetness, and the High West Double Rye for its complexity – but the ranking of favorites was as diverse as the aromas and flavors tasted.

Many, many thanks to The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines for the opportunity to educate myself in faraway France as to the diversity that is American whisky, and to Steve Rush of the Whisky Wire for running a great tasting.

Pickebacks and a doomed Buffalo Trace double Photo: PK Read

Pickebacks and a doomed Buffalo Trace double
Photo: PK Read

Picklebacks

On a slightly related note (American whiskies, to be exact), we stopped by the Honky Tonk Bar in Chelsea, London last night and I saw something I’d never seen before at the rustic, rough-hewn bar on a very posh street: Tiny little jars, the kind used for single jam servings, filled with either brown or opaque liquid. Two cheerful drinkers at the bar (who had about twelve small jars, all empty, before them) told me these were Picklebacks.

Whisky in one jar, pickle juice in the other. “From dark to light, out of the darkness and into the light,” is what the friendly barkeep said as he served us our own round and showed us how it was done. Whisky first, pickle juice second, in quick succession.

This is not for sipping, this is for shooting. And it’s not a technique devised for fine whiskies – the pickle juice back cuts the taste of the whisky as well as (I imagine) imparting some of vinegar’s health benefits to the liver when under assault.

Image: Jughandles Fat Farm

Image: Jughandles Fat Farm

Now I’ve done my homework and found out that the Pickleback, also known as a Piskey, has been popular Stateside for a little while now, and the picklejuice can be just as finely tuned as a fine neat whisky – nectarine pickle juice, artisanal pickle juice, pickle juice served like a martini, etc. If it has to do with drinking, trust people to dress it up.

I can’t say its something I’ll be doing on the regular, but I can say it was fun. Also, I can say the Buffalo Trace neat that I’d ordered was completely lost on me because after that initial Pickleback, pretty much everything tasted like pickle juice.

#LiquidAmericana

Liquid+Americana+TTBack in January, I felt very lucky to get a taste of Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old whiskey. I grew up drinking bourbon, but I can’t say I really discovered whisky until I visited Scotland. And although the Pappy 23 was a revelation, I haven’t sampled all that many different American-made whiskies. Yet.

The popularity of North American artisan whiskey has been growing for a while now, but many of the smaller distilleries aren’t heavily represented over here in Europe. Yet.

From a good article on the history of whiskey in North America:

“The (American) Revolution meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America. When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.”

Farmers on Virginia’s frontier began making whiskey with corn instead of rye in 1789, but what made it distinctive was aging. The Virginians discovered that charring the inside of oak barrels gave their matured whiskey a superior flavor and dark, rich color.”

Production had its ups and downs – particularly during the Civil War and the Prohibition – but over the last few years, a wide variety of American whiskey has been created that branch out from the standard bourbon I grew up with. A lot of the newer stuff is rye whiskey. Rye whiskey is made from fermented mashed grain that is at least 51 percent rye (a legal requirement), and is described as more peppery and complex by some than bourbon, which is at least 51 percent corn and has a sweeter, smoother taste.

So, as an American living in France, I am very pleased to have been selected as one of the tasters for the upcoming tweet tasting sponsored by The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines, #LiquidAmericana.

For me, the benefits are twofold: I get to see what’s going on in the whiskey world Stateside, a touch of home, and I get to discover some great (I hope) whiskies among fellow whisky lovers.

I’ve already received my five numbered sample dram bottles in the mail. One of the bottle caps was slightly loose, so the postal service got a tiny share of Number 3 and I got a nice whiff of what’s to come on Wednesday, June 26. I tightened the cap, and lined up the five bottles on a shelf. The rest remain a mystery – I haven’t opened them. Yet.

Here’s a nifty American whiskey map:

U.S. Whiskey Map Source: SloshSpot via Visual.ly

U.S. Whiskey Map
Source: SloshSpot via Visual.ly