Whiskey samples are a way of life at Drinkhacker HQ, and when you’re in this business for awhile (we’re approaching 9 years and 5000 posts), those samples start to stack up.
Sometimes samples come as full 750ml bottles. Often they arrive in the form of 50ml or 100ml minis. I give away more mostly-full bottles of hooch in a year than you will probably drink in your lifetime. But what do I do with the miniatures that are largely empty, but not quite gone? The mediocre stuff gets thrown out, sure, but with 20-plus year old spirits that cost four figures, I feel bad pouring the leftovers — even if it’s just half an ounce — down the drain. The result: I have had hundreds and hundreds of largely empty vials of whiskey sitting around, though I know I’ll never consume them. When would I ever have the chance to do so?
A few months ago storage space was becoming an issue so I made a decision I wish I’d made at the start of Drinkhacker: To make my own bespoke blends, drawn from the best of the best of my leftover stock, just for kicks.
It didn’t take long to fill a bottle, to the point where I now have three of them going, in various stages of fullness — two vattings of single malts and one bourbon blend. I did not keep track of what went into each bottle; that would ruin the fun.
These have all been marinating and marrying for awhile, with each bottle having room for 30 to 40 whiskies in it. Today, I finally decided I’d give them all a semi-formal review as if they were actual releases.
Without further ado, let’s see how good various blends of a bunch of random — yet all very good — whiskies can be. Most of the whiskies in these blends are cask strength releases, but I have no formal proof data, of course. All, of course, will continue to evolve as new samples find their way into the mix.
Drinkhacker Single Malt Blend #1 – This contains lots of SMWS castoffs, Diageo Special Releases, Exclusive Malts leftovers, and other high-end single malts. The malts are heavy on the Highlands, but there’s a bit of everything in here, including a significant amount of Islay malt. I didn’t think there was that much peated whisky here, but the solid smoke and iodine on the nose showcases how just a bit of Islay can go a long way. The palate offers honey and caramel notes, but it’s hidden beneath considerable peat. The finish folds sherry and chocolate with a bit of maraschino cherry character, but ends up squarely on the smoke. Water helps coax out more of the fruit, and while it’s not a bad dram, on the whole the blend is a relatively unbalanced disappointment. Hopefully as old whisky goes out and new whiskies go in it may find its footing. B
Drinkhacker Single Malt Blend #2 – Similar to blend #1, except there’s almost no peat in this one (save for incidental peat in Highland whiskies) — and going forward this will be my “non-peated” blend. This is a younger vatting of only about 20 whiskies to date, but it is already drinking better, likely thanks to the closer homogeneity of the components therein. Lots of honey and nougat give this blend structure, but it’s also quite restrained — with sweet vanilla and some lightly savory spices offering nuance. Baking spice and citrus notes hit on the back end. I’d say it was a classic, sherry-finished Highland malt, if I didn’t know better. By far a better blend, it isn’t entirely complex, but it offers balance, exuberance, and drinkability. I’d put this up against almost any 16 to 18 year old Speyside bottling. A-
Drinkhacker Bourbon Blend #1 – Mostly composed of various Buffalo Trace experiments (only really good ones) and Antique Collection leftovers, which means there’s a bit of rye in this. Immediately odd: Lots of licorice up front, plus cloves and barrel char (though not so much lumberyard/sawdust). As the body opens up (water isn’t wrong here), it showcases more of a salted caramel character with the dense wood notes underpinning it. The ultimate impression is one of surprisingly old bourbon — which goes to show how a splash of very well-aged stuff like the George T. Stagg in this blend can go a long way. That said, it’s still worthwhile and fun to sip on. In fact, it’s especially fun because I keep it in a novelty decanter that Jim Beam sent me with my name and photo on it. Nutty Kentuckians. B+