Four Part Harmony

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Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:34 pm

For the fun of it I took four excellent bourbons in equal quantities from three different 'houses' and vatted them to produce a first rate concoction.

I used Rock Hills Farms and Hancock Reserve from Buffalo Trace (although HR may be a label they inherited when they acquired Ancient Age?), Ridgemont Reserve (from Barton), and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2008 release (from Brown Foreman).

The Hancock is on the soft side at 88.9 proof and is, to the taste, a low rye bourbon and nicely sweet with good barrel flavors. The Rock Hill Farms (100 proof) is higher in rye content, which gives it a lively bite while still acknowledging the barrel in which it was raised. The Ridgemont Reserve (93.7 proof) has that special sweetness, and earthy cast as a counter balance to that sweetness, that I often find, and like, in Barton bourbons. The Old Forester '08 B'Day (94 proof) is one of those bourbons that is highly complex, subtle, somewhat dry, makes a nod to the pot still with its dry and metallic qualities, and owes a great deal to the 13 years it spent in the barrel on the upper floors of a BF warehouse. It is the anchor bourbon in the quartet.

The resulting bourbon is truly first rate, having some slight cognac-like overtones. It definitely owes most to the '08 Birthday Boy because its 13 YO dryness totes the other's sweetness, and even the rye bite, to a long conclusion..... one which honors the barrel flavors each has contributed. It is of some interest to me that the Birthday bourbon dominates as much as it does, since it is only 25% of the contents.

Still, I am quite happy with this vatting, because the '08 Birthday bourbon has always been a favorite of mine.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby HighHor$e » Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:41 pm

This could be a very interesting thread. Over the past few years our local enthusiasts have let our intuition take the lead by mixing a couple of barrels once we had narrowed our selection down to two. The result is often a more balanced bourbon that, to our taste, is noticeably nicer than either of the two. Keep in mind that we really liked each of the barrels. I have no idea what the chemistry is all about or how to interpret the mixology of it all - but I am certain that you can create something unique and wonderful. I like the fact that you documented your blend so that any of us can give it a try. Sailor22 recently brought a bottle of his 'slop bucket' which was the recipient of various samples over the years. It was a home run! But we can never recreate it. Let's document some winners here and see what happens. Not sure what you mean by "vatting" .. as we simply mix them in a glass and have at it! Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:05 pm

Vatting means combining different whiskeys of the same type to get a balanced and different taste, an alternative to the flavour of each on its own. Mixing a few bourbons in a glass is one form of it.

You don't have to like each element, e.g. I have a blend now where I'm thinking of adding about 20%, maybe 30, of Beam Black. I doubt anyone would peg it as a Beam drink after the mixing since the elements really do create something new.

Everything is a blend really, even a single barrel is in the sense that each stave in the barrel is unique and the microclimate around the barrel is never the same even when you place a barrel of white dog in the place of one from which the bourbon was removed and bottled. Also, in that bourbon different grains are mixed.

It's an old practice, merchants kept it alive who didn't distill on their own, but even some regular bourbon is vatted so to speak: Woodford Reserve is composed of two bourbons, distilled in different places with equipment quite different one from the other.

And mention of cocktails should be enough to allay any further doubts.

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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:29 pm

Being curious about such things, I combined three less expensive bourbons with the $30 2008 Birthday Bourbon. I used 3 that sell for around $10. They were Old Ezra 90 proof, Old Crow Reserve 86 proof, Old Barton 90 proof, and the '08 Birthday boy, each in the same proportions just as before.

This is not a horrible bourbon to drink, but the anchor is no longer the Birthday bourbon. Its subtlety is no match for the alcoholic edge (even though none of these bourbons, aside from the Birthday boy, exceeds 90 proof). The Birthday boy cannot drag the others into the quality of the first vatting.

This vatting is just too ragged by comparison and has abused the Birthday bourbon badly.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 17, 2012 7:35 am

Right, but if you blended, say, 2:1 VOB to the Birthday you would have, IMO, an excellent bourbon that combined traits of young and older, vigorous and sedate.

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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Aug 17, 2012 2:46 pm

gillmang wrote:Right, but if you blended, say, 2:1 VOB to the Birthday you would have, IMO, an excellent bourbon that combined traits of young and older, vigorous and sedate.

Dead on, Gary! I just tried doing that and the result is really QUITE good, if just a little more "Barton"-y than I personally prefer.

For those who enjoy VOB more than I do (and I used 100p BIB since I didn't have any 90p) I think this would make a very nice vatting. The only problem I can see is that, while VOB (in one form or another) is readily available, BDay 2008 only remains in the collections of those of us who still have any. The BDay bourbons are most notable for the fact that Chris Morris has gone to a great deal of trouble to present to us each year an annual installment in an ongoing encyclopedia of unique bourbon flavor profiles that can all be created with the same juice in the same warehouses, with maturation (and selection) being the only differences.

I know you know this already, but for those who have some of these bourbons and didn't already realize it, don't throw out those neck tags! They're not just advertising hype like most neck tags; they explain in some detail what makes each year so different from the others.

Anyway, my own personal take is that vatting one of the BDay bourbons wastes the opportunity to enjoy it for itself, and that regular Old Forester (which is also cheaper) would be ALMOST as good to use, and far more consistant.
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 17, 2012 3:12 pm

Thanks John and I'd use any year's Birthday; for this purpose they are essentially the same.

3:2 Barton to Birthday might hit exactly the right spot for you. But the point being, enough characterful bourbon in a blend can alter it in a meaningful way. Sometimes I'll do the reverse, adding an oily bourbon (e.g. Fighting Cock despite its 6 years) to a blend of older, leaner ones to give body. Eg, recently I found that a group of Buffalo Trace products (ETL; BT; RHF) was on the thin side, so I vatted them and beefed it up with some FC and some Jack too. Very nice result, really.

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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:06 pm

I also tried the 2 to 1 Barton (90 proof 6 YO) to '08 Birthday bourbon and agree completely with John's assessment that it is a bit too much of the inexpensive Barton for it to be a great bourbon. But it is still very good. At one time I did not like Barton bourbons because of their what I call 'earthy' taste......... now I do like that taste, but not every time I sip bourbon, and I was looking for something a bit better than good.

Since I still have some '07, '08, '09, and '10 Birthday Bourbons and just bought another bottle of the wonderful '08, I do not mind using it a bit for small scale vatting.

Also, I just tried some Old Forester Signature against the '08 Birthday boy........... as you would expect, the B'day boy is much superior (my opinion, of course) to the OF, which is itself a fine bourbon.

As the ever asture John Lipman noted, Chris Morris created some excellent bourbons with the Birhtday boys. But, I disagree, Gary that they are essentially the same, and as you will see below, I do not think Old Forester is their equal, even for vatting.

I tried the 50/50 Very Old Barton/Old Forester combo and although it is a very good bourbon, it is no more than that.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:36 pm

I just changed the game a bit again by taking 1 part Knob Creek Single Barrel, a 120 proof excellent whiskey (I am quite fond of this Beam bourbon...... I now think it their best and at $35 think it is quite reasonable) with loads of creamy and rich barrel flavors, 2 parts Evan Williams Single Barrel at 86.6 proof (I am also quite fond of this bourbon - it is on the soft side and has some subtlety that approaches delicacy to my palate, and at $20 it is a also a great value), and 3 parts '08 Birthday bourbon, most recently selling, when you can find it, at $39, and worth ever damn penny (I need not say more than I have about this fellow).

Now, this one is a first rate bourbon. On the front end it has the deep richness of caramel/vanilla from the KC, moderated across the middle by the EW, and held in tact by the dryness and twang of the BB.

This 'vatted' bourbon has full flavor across the complete palate, has balance across the elements, has a complex set of flavors, and has no wayward flavors. The finish, in my opinion, is knitted together by the Birthday boy and its oaky dryness. Incidentally, the final proof of this most excellent bourbon is 95.8.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Fri Aug 17, 2012 5:16 pm

The title of this post is Four Part Harmony, so in a nod to that initial proposal, I now extend the play. I have before me a whiskey made up of the following four whiskies. 1 part KCSB, 1 part St. George Single Malt Whiskey (86 Proof), 2 parts EWSB, and 3 parts '08 Birthday bourbon.

Now, to my palate, this is the best whiskey I have yet made in this group of trials. As it should be, the controlling element here is the '08 Birthday bourbon (which is, in my opinion, the best of the lot)...... without the BB the moderating dryness and twang, which, to my palate, is essential, would be absent.

I am quite fond of malt whiskies (Irish more than Scotch, but also some American malt whiskies) and am prepared to contend that the sweetness of the malt whiskies comes from the malt, almost exclusively, since they are almost always matured in used bourbon barrels...... although I understand that sometimes those barrels are recharred. I am also prepared to contend that malt sweetness is very different from corn sweetness and is, for lack of a better word, rounder, and a fuller sweetness than is that of corn. As far as I know, I have never seen Malt Dog on the market. You can get White Dog......... which is, I guess, like Corn Dog. I would love to try Malt Dog agin White (Corn) Dog.

Still, the point being, I think, from the better BE whiskey minds than mine, there was more malt in the old 'better' bourbons of yore than is now used........... the necessary enzyems for fermentation that came from malt in the past are now 'synthetic'. And, me own palate tells me that the addition of a 'useful' amount of malt (whether by actual grain content or by malt whiskey itself) 'rounds' the sweetness in a whiskey.

As to what I mean by 'roundness' in sweetness, I think it is a less direct sweetness, one that takes a moment to register on one's sweetness scale....... more like honey than like, say, cane sugar. This kind of sweetness (my opinion) carries further across the palate.

So, by me lights, this whiskey contains all the elements of a great whiskey, abundant barrel flavors, a certain delicacy and subtlety, a round sweetness, and the late offerings of the barrel.......... an oaky dryness and suitable tannins in the right proportions to tame the whole lot...... and give it a mysterious element from a long time in the barrel ('08 Birthday bourbon is 13 years old and anchors this bourbon).

This bourbon suits me to a 'T'.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:59 pm

Very good notes, very good ideas.

I meant, viz. the Birthdays, not that they are alike as amongst themselves, but that in a vatting with younger less complex whiskeys, they perform a similar function.

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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby EllenJ » Sat Aug 18, 2012 12:26 am

Mike wrote:...As far as I know, I have never seen Malt Dog on the market. You can get White Dog......... which is, I guess, like Corn Dog. I would love to try Malt Dog agin White (Corn) Dog...

I think Rick Wasmund still sells unaged malt whiskey. We can get it in Kentucky; not sure if you can in Georgia. Corsair Triple Smoke, out of Nashville, is another good white malt whiskey.
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Re: Four Part Harmony

Unread postby Mike » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:32 am

Another four part vatting that I tried just yesterday is this. I took 30% OGD (114 proof), 50% Old Fitzgerald 12 YO (90 proof), 10% 2008 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (94 proof), and The Irishman Cask Strength irish whiskey (112 proof). The vatting comes in at about 100 proof. It has some of the barrel flavors and rye bite of the OGD, some of the softness and delicacy of the OF, some of the tannnins and tang of the OFBB, and some of the sweetness of the IM.

Excellent whiskey! My guess is that the average of this whiskey is about 10 or 11 years old.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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