Monthly Archives: January 2011

Whiskey Glassware for Nosing and Tasting

Let’s say you’ve gone out and spent some good money on a bottle of fantastic whiskey. If you are like me, you can’t wait to head home and pour that sucker in the first glass you see. This might typically mean reaching for a “rocks” glass, the one that’s squat low and sturdy.

After pouring that sweet amber nectar you raise the glass to your sniffer and then………and then………nothing. Or perhaps very little, if anything, pushes it’s way to your nostrils. That’s because the rocks glass (or lowball or whatever you wish to call it) is fitting for some of the great classic cocktails (like my favorite, The Old Fashioned). It does not however enhance the aroma of the whiskey that’s glimmering and sloshing around in the bottom. The straight sides and wide opening permits way too much of the aroma to escape, leaving you looking like a basset hound rooting the top of the glass to collect what you can.

The Nose Knows
The human nose is powerful. While we can taste 4-5 basic flavors (including umami), our sense of smell can detect 30-plus (I think more than that but I’m no scientist). On top of that, the interplay between nosing and tasting a whiskey makes the experience so much fuller than tasting alone. There are whiskeys out there that I’ve sat down and nosed for 10 minutes before ever taking a sip. I was perfectly happy doing so because the nose of a whiskey can be captivating.

The bottom line is nosing is a huge part of overall enjoyment. I urge you to spend more time doing it (if you don’t currently). In order to get the most out it, you’ll need the right hardware for the job.

The Right Tools
Please drink your whiskey however you want to and enjoy it. I cannot underscore that point enough! But if you are a whiskey geek like me and really want to explore that whiskey, then investing in good glassware is a great place to start. The type of glassware I’m referring to is a nosing/tasting glass.

You can start by looking for a glass that might hold anywhere from 6-10 ounces of liquid and pinches in reasonably at the nose. Picture a white wine or chardonnay glass. The “tulip” shape provides enough of a “bowl” for which to swirl or agitate the whiskey easily, releasing aromas. The tighter, “pinched” opening then concentrates those aromas so you can experience them more easily.

If you are new to whiskey, just exploring, or not ready to invest in glassware – no problem. Don’t make it a chore or put more formality on yourself. I’d rather see you focus on enjoyment rather than stressing over glassware. Use a white wine glass or something in line with the description above. It’s a perfect starter, and I use them today from time to time.

The Next Step
If you are looking for something a little more specialized, give the following suggestions a try. All of them are fantastic for getting the most out of your whiskey. Please click the “red” link titles to view each option more closely.

Riedel Vinum Port Glass: Yep, that is not a misprint. It’s a port glass, but it’s a hell of a whiskey glass too. The 7+ ounce bowl provides plenty of room for the whiskey. The gradual pinching of the opening is not too tight and allows a nice even aroma to leave the glass. This is honestly a favorite of mine. $39.99 for 2 online and in many finer glassware stores.

The Glencairn: The Glencairn has been widely adopted by the Scotch Whisky industry. And with good reason. Notice the nice bowl and smaller opening – perfect for nosing. The thick, sturdy base provides a ideal place to hold the glass or rest it on a table. Not to mention, this glass is nice and sturdy itself. Personally I prefer a stemmed glass. To me they are easier to pick up and I don’t risk warming the whiskey too much with my hands. Overall this is an excellent option, and probably the most popular among enthusiasts. Approximately $10 a glass. You can usually find them for around that price.

The Glencairn Copita Glass: The classic “copita” shaped nosing glass is the perfect whiskey glass to me. This one is my favorite of the entire group. It’s not quite as deep as a port glass, but still ample room to swirl the spirit. I prefer how this glass doesn’t pinch in quite as dramatically as the standard Glencairn. That’s especially good when you are nosing whiskey with really high proof/alcohol percentage. The problem is these glasses are tougher to find, but this link (click the “red” title) will allow you to purchase them for $11 plus shipping.

Riedel Sommeliers Series Cognac XO Glass: This is an expensive one, but a great one. Notice the shape shares some similarities to the Glencairn. It’s a good bit more delicate than the Glencairn and smaller. I would classify this as a great special occasion whiskey glass, but it comes at ridiculously high price – $50+/ glass. Yep, that’s robbery and not worth the money in comparison to the others, but a great glass.

Crate and Barrel sold a good, solid port glass for $4 – fantastic to stock up on for group tastings. Unfortunately they’ve sold out of them at this time, but keep on the look for them as a great inexpensive option if they bring them back. If I have people over for tastings they are perfect to pour many at a time. If 1-2 break – oh well!

Also I’d recommend steering clear of Riedel’s Single Malt and Bourbon glass. Riedel make great glasses, but I think they missed the mark on both of these. The Single Malt glass just simply sucks – period. The Bourbon Glass, while reasonably good for getting the notes from a whiskey, is designed with an extremely short stem that’s not very natural to hold.

Stock Up Slowly
Take a look at your glassware options on hand for nosing and tasting whiskey. Start small and add a few of these when you can. It’s even fun to have a couple of each over time in case you are in the mood to try something different. The right glassware will allow a fuller appreciation and evaluation of all the whiskey has to offer. It’s educational, fun, and even makes it easier to determine what you like (or don’t).

Coming soon I’ll be doing some videos on my tasting and review process for those that are interested. Please be on the look out.

So what is your favorite whiskey glass?

Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon Review

Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon, 47.5% abv (95 Proof), $35/bottle

Color: Light Amber

Nose: Very prominent corny twang, sourdough, maple syrup, vanilla, coconut, and barrell char/oak. There’s a funky quality to it – somewhat different. Reminiscent of the pungent corny nose of George Dickel No. 12, but without the anchoring dried fruit and spice aromas/depth.

Palate: Again, a heavy corn quality – almost a sour corn flavor too. Caramel and candy corn sweetness emerges with honey, vanilla fudge, maple candy, and even a malty quality. Some spice (rye?) and oak asserts itself reasonably well from mid palate on through to the finish. I would love a little more spice to cut through some of the corny quality. Overall it tastes a little younger than I would have expected.

Finish: A medium length finish with candy corn that is lifted by smoky toasted oak.

Overall: This was a curve ball for me. There’s some great qualities to this whiskey, some really nice things going on. I enjoy the cornyness, but the fact that it tasted a little raw knocked it a few points for me. But overall it is very solid whiskey pushing towards very good. While in this price range there are better bourbons to be had, this has a high interest level.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.9 (Good/Solid)

Great Whiskey Resources Part 2: Podcasts

In an information age where “stuff” is flying at you in an instant it’s tough sometimes to carve out 45 mins to an hour to listen to a podcast. But here are two in the whiskey world that are worth your time.

WhiskyCast (w/ Mark Gillespie): WhiskyCast has been around for about 5 years. I’ve only been listening to them for about a year now, and I’m so glad I found it. Mark Gillespie is the host and has some of the most informed guests on his show each week. In addition to interviews, Mark spends some time on weekly whiskey news and tastings. You can find WhiskyCast on iTunes and it’s free.

K&L Spirits Journal Podcast: A few days ago I posted some great whiskey resources. One of those was the Spirits Journal blog of K & L Wines ran by David Driscoll and David Girard. David Driscoll produces a podcast and just kick started it up again recently. He’s on his third podcast and already his interviews have included one of the foremost historians of Bourbon (Chuck Cowdery) and arguably the most interesting man in whiskey (John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky Co. ). This podcast is also free and available on iTunes.

Give these podcasts a listen and you’ll be rewarded with in depth whiskey industry information. They’re both great ways to stay informed and learn more about the brown stuff. Thanks for producing them guys and keep up the great work.

Drink you Bourbon!


Great Whiskey Resources

I find RSS is the best way for me to keep up with all of the whiskey blogs and resources on the internet. Google reader is my tool of choice for doing that. And while I recommend all of the sites I link to (otherwise I wouldn’t do it!), I want to take a moment and call out a few specific sites that I’ve really grown to love and enjoy. Each of these sites is unique and filled with outstanding insight on the world of whiskey.

Click the “red” highlighted links below to view these sites.

Ralfy’s Video Reviews ( If there is anyone that is inimitable in the video review space, Ralfy Mitchell is that person. Ralfy is relaxed, personable, extremely well versed and intelligent when it comes to whiskey from around the globe. He also calls it like he sees it, and understands that value is important. Ralfy is truly an ambassador to the world of whiskey and I’m glad I discovered him over 18 months ago. His style is totally unique, you will learn a lot, and most probably will be hooked like I am. He posts frequently so there is always some great content coming from his site. The highest compliment I can pay him is he’s one of the guys that spurned my idea, “I should do video reviews on American Whiskey.” Highly recommended.

KL Wines Spirit Journal: This may very well be my favorite whiskey site on the internet right now. Ran by David Driscoll and David Girard, these guys make almost every other wine and spirits merchant look downright slack as hell. The two Davids are key buyers for KL Wines 3 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area of CA and Los Angeles. They post frequently about the industry, give fresh forward thinking opinions, keep you up to date on the latest and greatest products, and education. More merchants should be investing in the later. What better way to keep informed customers coming to your shop that want to learn and experience more whiskey. And just to be clear, they promote their shop, but the primary function of the blog from my viewpoint is thought leadership and just great content about the world of whiskey. Highly recommended.

American Craft Spirits: Matt Colglazier leads the way in information on the “little guy”, the upstart, and the boutique distilleries across the US. Matt’s passionate about promoting these small distilleries and provides a window into that world unlike anyone else. Few, if any, are doing what Matt does, and to the level he’s doing it. He covers a ton of ground including everything from Vodka to Gin to Rum, but he doesn’t neglect whiskey, giving it equal stage. Matt’s distillery profiles and interviews are informative and his written reviews are well done.

Dramming: Oliver Klimek’s site,, is a great resource for whiskey lovers. Pure, clean and straightforward information and reviews. Reviews come up probably 4-5 times per week and in some cases more. He covers mostly Single Malt Scotch but dips into whiskey around the world also. I admire his simple approach to reviews and look forward to what he posts each and every week. (Davin’s Site): Davin de Kergommeaux started this site a year or so ago I believe. Recently he just put out his first annual awards for Canadian Whisky across a number of categories. It was excellent stuff and reminded me that I need to be thinking of the same thing as well. Suffice it to say our brothers to the north make some great whiskey. Davin’s site is committed to promoting the great “brown stuff” that Canada has to offer. I’ve learned a great deal reading Davin’s site. His reviews are super thorough and I like his simple star rating system.

Well, there are many more that I love and I will get around to showcasing them soon. But I wanted to take a moment and call out a few great ones that I enjoy weekly and even daily. One big common denominator (that I have seen) about folks within or writing/talking/blogging about the world of whiskey – most are great people. Check ’em out when you have some time!

Drink your Bourbon!


Bernheim Wheat Whiskey Review

Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $30/bottle

It is quite rare that you will find a Wheat Whiskey. In order to be classified as such, 51% or more of the grain makeup of the mash bill (grain recipe) must be wheat. In this case, Bernheim’s wheat content sits right at 51%, with the remaining 49% coming from corn (predominantly) and barley. Wheat is a fragile, soft grain for a whiskey, so it’s more commonly used as a component in Bourbon (which is at least 51% corn and most of the time sits at 70+% corn), adding a soft, round quality. The folks at Bernheim are doing something totally unique using wheat as the majority grain.

Color: Deep Bronze

Nose: Crisp and light with graham cracker, lemon pie, all spice, and toasted oak. There is a dry whole grain quality to this nose.

Palate: Beautifully balanced, but the flavors are well defined with lemon candy, vanilla, and light honey sweetness that isn’t sticky in the least. The sweetness is far from cloying. Cherries really shine through (kirsch??) also followed by heavily toasted bread and dry oak. Sweet spices (clove, all spice) emerge from mid palate through to the finish.

Finish: For such a light, airy whiskey this finish is really pretty long. Again the cherry fruit shines through in a more cherry candy or maraschino flavor, then toasted oak and sweet spice really takes over.

Overall: Bourbon lovers expecting to drink a rich, sweet, intense whiskey need to pause for a moment. This certainly has some bourbon-like qualities, as it should with a significant portion of corn in the grain recipe. However this is much more elegant, refined, and subtle. The flavors are light and fruity, and the sweetness is present without overdoing it. For Scotch Lovers that feel bourbon is “too sweet” or for those Bourbon Lovers looking for a nice, easy sipping change up – this is a great one. There is something for everyone here – it’s inviting, well made, and I look forward to another glass.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

End of an Era: Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. set to retire this Spring.

This is the end of an era for sure at Maker’s Mark. Today it was announced that President Bill Samuels Jr. has decided to retire on April 15. Apparently he’s ready to turn the reins over to his son, Rob Samuels, who was named the COO this past October. Regardless of your opinion of Maker’s Mark original (I rated it 7.4) or the new “46” released in 2010 (rated 8.9), the company is one of the most storied in American Whiskey. It has become a bellweather in the industry on the back of a well executed product with a soft, accessible flavor profile, and a distinctive bottle with red wax seal.

Bill’s father, Bill Samuels Sr., bootstrapped the company in the 1950s. He received some assistance from none other than Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle to formulate what would become the Maker’s Mark classic wheated recipe. That was a departure from the norm at a time when Bourbons were in some cases crude, raw, and rough. The strategy to bring a softer, smoother bourbon to the market, along with his mother’s decision to create the distinctive bottle that would bear the red wax “mark”, set the tone for what the company is today.

And while he inherited a great product, make no mistake that Bill Jr. took Maker’s Mark to next level on his watch. He stuck with a simplistic approach of doing one thing really really well. Over the years limited release bourbons have come out of Loretto, KY, where the distillery is located. For the most part, however, Maker’s Mark has stuck to what they know best. The addition of Maker’s “46” after much prodding from consumers and Maker’s Ambassidors was well received in the market. And perhaps it was Bill Jr’s “swan song” of sorts.

Sour Mash Manifesto wishes to congratulate Bill Samuels Jr. on his fantastic accomplishments with Maker’s Mark, as well as helping to push and define the whiskey industry in this country. We wish him, Rob, and Maker’s Mark all the best as they push towards April 15th and beyond.

Slainte Bill.