I don’t know if you have any friends in bands.
Some times, even though they are perfectly great people who you like to hang out with, their idea of music just may not jive with yours.
You go to see them the first few times they play, determine your perspective on their art, and in the future make vague excuses regarding family obligations and other important tasks.
You might still buy their records, but, really? Klezmer crossed with Al Di Meola Style Jazz Fusion? Who wants to sit through that more than a couple times?
We’re still good friends, but some times there are things friends don’t talk about.
Anyway, when Crispin Cain told me he was going to make and market an unaged Whiskey, I was a little worried. I really like his Absinthe and his Rose Liqueur.
But jumping into the unaged Whiskey business?
To be honest, a lot of the people I talk to are pretty unenthused about unaged whiskey.
Ok, it’s kind of a funny idea. Maybe a novelty, at best, and a way to get some sort of product to market during the lean years while you age your proper whiskey. A lot of companies will do something similar, marketing another unaged product like Vodka or Gin. However, at worst, where some companies are neither aging nor distilling their own products, it seems like a bit of a scam to charge more than $30 for something that is not really all that different from Industrial Ethanol.
To paraphrase another friend, there’s kind of a reason barrel aging has developed as the most common way to use grain distillate… Oh wait, the number one spirit in the world is an unaged grain distillate: Vodka
Well, let’s face it, in a lot of cases, that’s what these unaged whiskey producers are selling: Dirty Vodka.
I think back to Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode about Bourbon. After hearing the Maker’s Mark Master Distiller describe the process he exclaimed, “So, really, what you are making is a solvent to extract flavor from wood.” The Master Distiller went on to say he preferred to think of the process more akin to alchemy, extracting Gold from Lead, but he had to admit, from a technical point of view, Alton was right.
And a lot of what is being sold as Unaged Whiskey or, shudder, “Moonshine” just isn’t that nice.
So I was a little worried when Crispin told me he was going to sell his American Craft Whiskey as a clear spirit. Would we have uncomfortable silences in our next interaction?
However, when I saw the Low Gap Clear American Craft Whiskey on the shelf at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company a couple months ago, I knew I had to at least give it the old college try.
So, what’s the low down with this product?
Crispin, (and it is just him, his wife and one of his sons making all of their products,) buys malted Bavarian Wheat. Brews an unhopped beer from the wheat, spiking it with a yeast normally used for Wine or Brandy production. When the proper alcohol (around 8.8 ABV) and degree of acidity is reached, he distills it twice on Germain-Robin’s antique Cognac still (pictured on their website). First to get it to 23-30% ABV (brouillis is the French term) and again to take it to 65-80% ABV (or an Eau-de-Vie).
While this sort of production is normal for Cognac or Brandy, it is more than a bit unusual for Whiskey. Even among the so-called “Micro-Distillers”, very few are fermenting their own wash and almost no one is distilling literal “small batch” Whiskey in a true Cognac-Style still. I mean, it is a 16 hectolitre still, if that isn’t “small batch”, nothing is.
What you get is something amazingly aromatic, yet at the same time incredibly clean. There are great aromas, one friend described it as sticking your head in a flour bag or breaking open a loaf a bread, but the spirit is so well distilled that it makes you forget that it is completely unaged.
Crispin is aging this wheat spirit in a number of interesting ways, but what about this new product, the “Clear” version of Low Gap American Craft Whiskey?
Well, thinking about it, while barrel aging is awesome, it is a relatively recent phenomenon. The idea of a 10 year old whiskey would have been crazy talk to someone like Jerry Thomas. In the 19th Century, and before, almost all spirits were bottled new make and then shipped to bars in barrels. If a bar wanted to buy and age a barrel of spirits, that was their prerogative, but most whiskey was served much younger than ever would be contemplated today.
So maybe I should make a 19th Century style cocktail with a 19th Century style unaged Whiskey? How about Jerry Thomas’ 1887 recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail?
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 2 dashes of Curacoa or Maraschino.
1 pony of rye whiskey.
1 wine-glass of vermouth.
3 dashes of Boker’s bitters.
2 small lumps of ice.
Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers it very sweet use also two dashes of gum syrup.
Right, well, I’m going to simplify this slightly, because The Underhill Lounge is a classy joint, (note the awesome glassware!)
Old School Manhattan
Long Pour Chilled Red Vermouth
Short Pour Low Gap American Craft Whiskey
Short Pour Amaro Ciociaro
Chilled Soda Water
Combine Vermouth, Whiskey, and Amaro in a glass. Stir to combine. Top up with soda.
Ahem, oops, this is about all I’ve been drinking in February, (when I don’t leave the booze out altogether,) I like it so much.
I did try this with the Perucchi Red Vermouth, which was OK. However, it is tons, and I mean TONS, better with Carpano Antica Italian Vermouth. There is just a very nice synergy between the malted flavors of the Low Gap Clear Whiskey and the sweet vanilla notes of the Carpano Antica. The amazing thing for me is how clearly the flavor and scent of the Whiskey comes through in this, even though in volume terms it is a bit player in the cocktail. The Whiskey also seems to act as a sort of amplifier, raising the character of the other elements.
Not bad, Crispin, not bad at all.
So sometimes, it turns out your friends bands are surprisingly good, or even excellent. Like my friend who is maybe the best Theremin player I have ever seen (Project Pimento), or another who transforms the tropes of 1960s chamber rock into cool modern music (Scrabbel), Crispin has pulled this one out.
I can’t wait to see how this whiskey turns out with some age on it.