Our spirits tasting series continues as our resident mixologist takes us on a journey
through the lore and legacy of North American whiskey
Written by Daniel Gonzales
Photography by John Connell
There is just something about the slow smooth pour of whiskey into a glass. The long twists and turns of the amber elixir splashing against the ice in your tumbler as it clinks the rounded sides, sending little drops of sweet aged hooch into waves of an abyss. The thought of flappers and speakeasies pass through the imagination while sipping on the same whiskey that all the moonrunners of Prohibition tasted when they made it across county lines out running the fuzz and getting a month’s wages in the big city for their families back home.
Whether you are an experienced journeyman upon the Kentucky road, or tasting your very first Manhattan or Old Fashioned, North American whiskey is a big part of this country’s history. Whiskey also has been one of the fastest growing spirit categories over the past five years.
Declared America’s Native Spirit by Congress in 1964, Bourbon is definitely the whiskey leading the charge in the surging trend over the past few years. This surge, however, has brought out the creative sides of many whiskey master distillers and companies to expand their lines and innovations to produce interesting rye whiskies and blends that hold their own against the heavy hitters in Bourbon County.
In our efforts to showcase a different type of spirit category once a month over the next few months, The Double Eagle was gracious enough to host our North American whiskey tasting. The Double Eagle has one of the largest whiskey collections around town, along with some house creations that will knock your socks off. They have purchased multiple select barrels of whiskey, including Buddy’s barrel select Knob Creek, celebrating owner Buddy Ritter’s five plus decades in the hospitality industry. The Double Eagle is certainly the destination you are looking for if its whiskey or whiskey cocktails you are craving.
The most frequent question I get asked is: what is the difference between whiskey, scotch, bourbon, and rye spirits? Whiskey is a broad descriptor of a spirit made from a grain, then aged with some type of wood. For instance, for a whiskey to legally be labeled a “rye,” that spirit must be made of a minimum of 51 percent rye in its “mashbill,” or composition of raw ingredients.
Bourbon is defined by federal mandate, and must follow five specific criteria to legally be labeled a Bourbon:
- BOURBON must be made in the United States. While much Bourbon is made in Kentucky, Bourbon can legally be made in any of our 50 beautiful states in the union.
- AGING must occur in brand new, charred American oak barrels. Bourbon must be aged a minimum of two years in oak, and if it is less than four years, that whiskey must say it on the label. (Since these barrels can only be used once to make whiskey, many other types of spirits, tequila for instance, use Bourbon barrels for aging.)
- BOURBON must use a minimum of 51% corn in its mashbill production of whiskey.
- BOURBON cannot enter a barrel higher than 125 proof, and cannot be bottled at less than 80 proof.
- THERE cannot be additives in Bourbon whatsoever, with the sole exception of good old fashioned H20. That’s right, while other whiskies can add caramel for flavor or color, no additive can go into America’s Native Spirit except water!
If you were unfortunately not able to attend our gathering of different whiskies, here are some of the beautiful spirits that we compared side by side at the Double Eagle:
JIM BEAM DOUBLE OAK BOURBON
This innovation is a terrific entry-type of Bourbon for anyone trying a Bourbon for the first time, or for the experienced Bourbon drinker that appreciates a smooth and sweet flavor. It is first aged in white oak barrels, then poured into a charred mature barrel for the second aging. The aromas are rich with caramel and vanilla with hints of toasted wood, while the taste is smooth and sweet with chocolate and vanilla notes more prevalent because of the double aging.
Due to its especially high rye content, Bulleit has a bold and spicy character, with a clean and smooth finish. The dedication to the highest quality of ingredients, along with their unique and exclusive strains of yeast and Kentucky limestone filtered water, Bulleit separates itself as an exceptional option for bourbon drinkers. The aromas reflect the ingredients with spicy and sweet oak notes, while flavors of maple, oak, and nutmeg dance across your tongue, with a light caramel and toffee finish.
I.W. HARPER BOURBON
Juxtaposed to Bulleit Bourbon, I.W. Harper uses 73% corn in its mashbill with only 18% rye and 9% barley. This make up of grains and minimum of four years aging really produces a sweet and silky mouthfeel in I.W. Harper. The aromas remind me of Pecan Sandie’s and Werther’s Originals or butterscotch. The flavors are deep and sweet, like nuts and dried fruits, with a smooth finish of chocolate and caramel.
HIGH WEST AMERICAN PRAIRIE BOURBON
High West Distillery out of Utah won Distiller of the Year in 2016 from Whisky Advocate, simply because of their high-quality distillates and attention to detail. American Prairie Bourbon’s mashbill is kept tightly under wraps, but the taste and quality displays a fantastic balance of grains. The aromas show off very subtle hints of caramel and open vanilla bean, while the flavors of honey cornbread and peanut brittle drizzle down your palate. The perfect gift for the adventurer. (High West donates 10 percent of after tax profits to the American Prairie Reserve for every bottle purchased.)
HIGH WEST RENDEZVOUS RYE
Rendezvous Rye is the flagship whiskey of High West Distillery that is mad from a blend of rye whiskies ranging from 5-19 years old. This rye is 95% rye and only 5% barley. The blend creates a very spicy nose and flavor. The aromas include dried fruit, and pumpkin spices. The spicy flavors include cinnamon, mint and fennel backed up by the sweetness from the aging that include vanilla and coconut. High quality of the American Prairie, but a very different flavor profile.
This rye has always been my go to rye when making cocktails. The quality of this 95% rye whiskey is a great bargain for price. Bulleit Rye has a lot of spice and complexity and versatility, with aromas of vanilla and mint on the, with a very strong spicy flavor finished with vanillas and caramel for your enjoyment.
This Colorado rye is my “spirit find” of the year. Using very high-quality rye from the Pacific Northwest and glacial water from the Rockies, this spirit is exceptional in every way. Every bottle uses 100% rye and is aged 10 years before it is put on the shelf. The quality of distillation comes through with each sip. The aromas are heavy in the caramel and vanilla because of the decade spent in white oak, with flavors that are well balanced in spice and sweetness for a very enjoyable experience that is unlike any other.
KNOB CREEK RYE
This version of rye is very mellow in its rye content and flavor for those drinkers that prefer just a dash of spice. Although the exact mashbill is known only by the distillers, this whisky is probably close the minimum 51% rye grain necessary for it to be called a rye. The aromas are more along the lines of a Bourbon with oak and butterscotch dominating, while the flavors still herbaceous and subtly spicy finished with chocolate and caramel.
CROWN ROYAL RESERVE
Crown Royal is probably the most well-known and popular whisky brand in New Mexico, and has no shortage of fans here in the Las Cruces area. Crown Royal Reserve is a blend of select barrels from the master distiller. The cost is not drastically higher than the traditional Crown Deluxe, but the quality is noticeable. The nose is strong caramel with some stone fruit characteristics and even floral tones and the flavor is incredibly smooth with noticeable oak and vanilla and finishes with a slight spice.
A big thank you to all the folks that showed up to experience these wonderful spirits and the Double Eagle for hosting. Please join us for as we continue our spirit tasting series over the next few months:
Gin & Vodka
Hacienda de Mesilla
Liqueurs & Cocktails 101
To reserve your spot, contact the restaurant and make reservations, or for more information email Daniel Gonzales at firstname.lastname@example.org.