Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Malt Whisky

ADI adds American Single Malt Whiskey as a Judging category

The American Distilling Institute has decided to add American Single Malt Whiskey as a distinct category for their upcoming spirits competition, the Judging of Craft Spirits. American Single Malt is a burgeoning whiskey category and we at ADI believe that whiskeys made in line with the proposed standard of identity created by the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) are different enough in character that they deserve recognition as a distinct category.  

In 2016, a group of American Craft Distilleries got together and formed the ASMWC with the express purpose to "establish, promote and protect the category of American Single Malt Whiskey." The reason for this is, at present there is no legal definition for American Single Malt. The Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) defines Malt Whiskey as whiskey made from a fermented mash of at least 51% malted barley, distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% ABV), and stored at less than 125 proof (62.5% ABV) in charred new oak containers. Under the current definition, US Malt Whiskey can include other grains such as corn, rye, or wheat in the mash and it is required to be matured in charred new oak barrels the same as bourbon and rye whiskey. This means that a US distiller could make a whiskey from 51% malted barley and 49% corn and call it a single malt whiskey, because the word single has no legal meaning for TTB.

The ASMWC aims to bring American made single malt whiskey in line with the broader understanding of single malt whiskies from around the world. They propose that American single malt whiskey should have the following standard of identity: "Made from 100% malted barley; distilled entirely at one distillery; mashed, distilled, and matured in the USA; matured in oak casks not exceeding 700 liters (185 gallons); distilled to no more then 160 proof (80% ABV); and bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV) or more. This definition has a few important differences from the current TTB standard for Malt Whiskey. First requiring the whiskey be made from 100% malted barley at one distillery in the US lines up with the EU definition of Single Malt Scotch. The other key difference is that under the ASMWC's proposed standard American single malt would be allowed to be matured in used barrels. This would most likely make the largest difference in the flavor to the spirit. Charred new barrels contribute a lot of intense wood flavors over time and as we have seen with many extra aged bourbons. By allowing American single malt to be matured in used barrels, distilleries, especially in climates with large temperature swings, would be able to produce at much longer aged spirit that is not overwhelmed by wood. It is a common practice in Cognac to start a brandy off in new or young barrels and then move the spirit to used or exhausted barrels to allow the spirit to slowly oxidise and mellow over time without also increasing the wood flavors extracted from the barrel. If the ASMWC's standard is formally adopted by the TTB we could see 8, 10, 12, and 18 year old American Single Malt Whiskeys become the norm rather than the exception.

At present, there are whole realms of flavors that are largely cut off from US malt whiskey because of the current legal definition. However, innovation and pushing the boundaries of whiskey and gin has helped energize and drive growth in the spirits industry. Hopefully, the TTB will seriously consider adopting the standard of identity set out for American Single Malt Whiskey. And in the meantime, ADI will continue to support distillers as they expand the legacy of US distilled spirits.

Review: 1970s Johnnie Walker Red Label

Owned and blended by The Distillers Company (now Diageo) Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky (1970s) was bottled at 40% and 43% ABV.

Price: Unknow historical price however, current price is between $130-$230 per bottle.

In 1867, Alexander Walker created the blended Scotch brand Old Highland Whisky which was rechristened in 1909 as Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky. Blended Scotch is a mix of both grain whiskies and malt whiskies that have been distilled and mature in Scotland for at least 3 years. Grain whiskies are spirits are defined by the EU as a mix of grains such as malted barley, corn, rye, or wheat, distilled on a continuous column still, and matured for at least 3 years. Where as malt whiskies are spirits made from 100% malted barley, pot-distilled, and matured for at least 3 years. 

By the 1920s Johnnie Walker was being sold in 120 countries and had been using the same squared bottle and angled label for about 50 years.  In 1925, Johnnie Walker was acquired by The Distillers Company and by the 1970s Johnnie Walker Red Label was the most popular Scotch whisky sold in the world. While it is would great to know what whiskies went into the Red Label Blend in the 1970s as compared to today, sadly Johnnie Walker does not make that information public. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to David T. Smith for providing me a sample.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose greeted me with the aroma of fresh baked biscuits and honey with undertones of fruit carried on bright notes of alcohol.

Palate: The palate was smooth, had a medium body that was slightly warm. 70s Red Label tasted nutty like roasted cashews and had a light sweetness that balanced nicely with notes of spice, oak, and smoke with a little briny sea air.

Finish: The finish is long with lasting notes of brine and smoke mixed oak and sweet cherry.

Conclusion: It was surprising to me how fresh and vibrant Red Label tasted after all this time. 70s Red Label was a tasty blended Scotch whisky that demonstrates the skill of the blender to create a lighter whisky that still retains plenty of character. Johnnie Walker has clearly been putting out high quality whiskies for quite some time so there is understandable why they sold over 17 million 9-liter cases in 2016.