January 2012 Newsletter

Our 2012 January newsletter is now available! Whiskey 101 is in session.

Rick and Joe attend an iWish whiskey class led by Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer Chuck Cowdery at Maeve in Lincoln Park.

Sampled Spirits

  • Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • Templeton Rye
  • Johnnie Walker Red Label

Chuck Cowdrey knows his whiskey. His blog’s bio reveals that he has 25 years of experience “in and around the American liquor industry,” a fact that comes to life during his relaxed and informative presentation. While he has an affinity for bourbon in particular (true to his Kentucky roots), Chuck speaks with knowledge and passion about whiskeys from around the world. Rick and I had the pleasure of conversing with Chuck following the Whiskey 101 class to pick his brain and to discuss holding private classes for the Whiskey

The Whiskey 101 class at Maeve took place in the rear of the bar, where two dozen whiskey students were seated closely together. Half of them seemed to be in attendance with cross-purposes – as Chuck began his presentation, he recognized that many in the class might be distracted by the football game on the TVs.  He was right, and as the hour passed, even Chuck’s boisterous voice was difficult to hear over the group’s peripheral commentary.

Nevertheless, Chuck packed an amazing amount of information in the 1-hour class. He effortlessly dispensed facts and history while dispelling myths, timing the information to sync with the whiskey being served. As the Jack Daniel’s was poured, he explained that bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S., not just in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and still be called bourbon. He contrasted the Jameson being served with details about Scotch, describing the characteristic smoky flavor Scotch gets from the burning of peat moss during the heating process, adding that Scotch is aged in used – rather than new – oak barrels.

Each of the four whiskeys was served neat, and water was provided should anyone like to add a few drops to the glass.  I was a bit disappointed that the whiskeys selected for tasting were what I consider ordinary, but to be fair, this was a 101 class and not a specialized tasting class. That said, both Rick and I were pleasantly surprised to find that Jack tasted different – better– than we remembered from a decade ago when we last drank it straight. Rick commented that he “was able to appreciate more of its refined ‘bourbon’ quality,” and he surprised himself by “saying things like ‘sweet,’ ‘herbal’ or ‘floral’ about the Jack.” He put it higher on his list of American whiskeys. I concurred.

In contrast to corn-based bourbons, Templeton Rye is 95% rye, a grain that has more flavor than corn and costs twice as much – and I could tell. Rick detected its char aroma and taste, and I likened it to Koval’s Lion’s Pride Dark Oat. We agreed to give Templeton Rye more attention in the future.  The Jameson revealed a caramel aroma and spicy flavor to me, but I will have to search for complexity in future tastings.  I continue to regard Jameson as a simple, easy-drinking whiskey.

The Johnnie Walker Red Label was distinct from the other whiskeys due to its smokiness. Prior to the class I was ignorant that peat is to thank for that attribute. Rick’s palate discerned a citrusy quality that balanced the spiciness.  We hope Chuck isn’t listening, because, even in the absence of higher quality Scotch, Rick and I would still reach for Johnnie Walker Red instead of a bottle of bourbon.

Authored by Joe, with Rick as contributor

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