The Bourbon, Rye and Whisky League, also known as BRAWL, gathered on January 20 at Tim’s Texas BBQ in central Beijing for an evening of hearty food and fine spirits. After sampling leftover Bourbon from the inaugural meeting in September and feasting on ribs and potato salad, the BRAWLers got down to a blind tasting of 8-year-old Wild Turkey Kentucky Bourbon, 10-year-old Bushmills Irish Whiskey, 12-year-old Famous Grouse Scotch and 25-year-old Alberta Springs Canadian Rye.
Ed Ohlin provided a primer on the spirits (noting, for example, that Scotch often has hints of peat – compressed weeds and grass) and answered questions (for example, “Why would the human palate desire a burnt-wood flavor?” to which Ed explained that charred barrels are used because distillers want the complexity and color that the carmalized sugars in oak bring out during the aging process).
The tasting aimed to show the differences between these spirits and the BRAWLers spent some quality time pondering which of the four shot glasses facing each of them held the Bourbon, Rye, Scotch and Irish Whisky respectively. After much sniffing and sipping, three people – Sarah E., Brad S. and Alan S. – correctly guessed all four spirits. In terms of favorites, a rough poll saw Alberta Springs come out on top (5.5 votes), followed by Bushmills (4.5), Famous Grouse (3) and Wild Turkey (1: that would be Ed).
Here are some brief tasting notes:
Bushmills: A sweet and slightly syrupy nose, it was light and smooth going down, and had a very palatable aftertaste. As Ed noted, with its three ingredients – barley, yeast and water – this spirit is simplicity defined.
Wild Turkey: This was slightly less sweet, with more honey than syrup aromas, and had a long and burning aftertaste, evidence of its strong proof. Alan S said, “It seems distantly North American.”
Famous Grouse: To me, this was mildest of the first three, with a slight earthy aroma and taste.
Alberta Springs: It had almost no aroma and a light aftertaste, and was very smooth. “The mouth feel is satiny,” said Ed. “This is distinct because it isn’t sharp but it has a deep color.” Someone else felt differently: “I think number four would solve a lot of ailments.” (Note: My research shows that Alberta Springs is the only 100 percent Rye distilled in Canada.)
This tasting cost 120 kuai per person, which covered the food and spirits, with the leftover Whisky going toward icebreaker drinks at the next event. As the room could only hold 16 people, I limited the mailing list mainly to those who expressed interest in BRAWL when I first proposed the idea a year ago. Given this, and that the theme of this event seems worth a repeat, I’ll organize another blind tasting of Bourbon, Canadian Rye, Scotch and Irish Whisky (those interested in getting on the mailing list for BRAWL or more biweekly newsletter, let me know at email@example.com).