Whiskey Expert Guesses Cheap vs Expensive Whiskey

In this episode of 'Price Points,' Epicurious challenges whiskey expert Heather Greene to guess which one of two whiskies is more expensive. Heather breaks down Scotch, rye, Irish, Bourbon and Japanese whiskey before making her guesses! Heather Greene is a whiskey author/expert and partner at Ben Milam Whiskey: www.benmilamwhiskey.com

Released on 5/13/2019

Transcript

00:00
I'm Heather Greene and I'm a whiskey expert.
00:03
♪ Hallelujah ♪
00:06
[playful music]
00:15
Well, fantastic.
00:16
I have two scotch whiskeys in front of me
00:19
and looking at the from the top in a decanter,
00:21
I can't quite tell the difference in color
00:24
but let's get to it.
00:25
Scotch whiskey is a type of whiskey.
00:28
Whiskey being defined as a distilled spirit
00:31
made with three simple ingredients.
00:33
Water, yeast, and grain.
00:35
The magic of whiskey is the fact
00:37
that we can create this gorgeous cornucopia of flavors
00:40
from these three ingredients,
00:41
depending on where it comes from.
00:43
One of the things that make scotch whiskey
00:46
scotch whiskey, is that it is aged in Scotland.
00:49
It must be aged for a minimum
00:50
of three years on Scottish soil.
00:53
Just looking at this right away,
00:54
we have a nice gold color.
00:56
This is a Glencairn glass
00:58
and Glencairn glasses are something that I like
01:00
to use when I'm professionally nosing or tasting.
01:02
You see this bulbous shape at the bottom?
01:05
This is a way to condense flavors
01:07
so that I can really get out the aromatics in a whiskey.
01:11
I'm gonna say flat out
01:12
that this is a very, very beautiful whiskey.
01:14
It has a lot of finesse to it.
01:16
There's some orange blossom, slight vanillas,
01:19
and my favorite, favorite, element is a little bit
01:22
of mustiness that I get in a warehouse
01:25
where scotch whiskey is aged.
01:26
What really separates a single malt scotch,
01:30
which I believe this one to be,
01:31
from any other kind of whiskeys in the word,
01:32
is the use of 100% malted barely.
01:35
So if you see the word single on a single malt scotch,
01:38
single means it comes from one single distillery.
01:41
It doesn't mean anything else.
01:42
Now, let's move on to B.
01:43
I don't know what to expect here.
01:45
I can see right away there is no difference in color.
01:49
One of the things about Scotland
01:50
that is tricky is that they're allowed to use coloring.
01:53
While I evaluate color in scotch whiskey and consider it,
01:57
it's not always just purely gonna based on the type
02:00
of wood it's been aged in,
02:02
which, of course, will contribute to the color.
02:04
I don't know whether one of these
02:05
has used caramel coloring or not.
02:07
My guess is that the inexpensive whiskey
02:09
probably used caramel coloring
02:11
to make me feel as if I was drinking something very aged.
02:17
I'm gonna come right out and say it,
02:18
this is a blended whiskey.
02:19
And the reason why I know that is
02:21
because I'm getting a slight whisper of smoke and peat.
02:24
Blended whiskey producers basically take elements
02:28
of different single malt scotch distilleries,
02:30
blending them together.
02:32
And, in this case, I believe they used a tiny bit
02:34
of smoke and peat to lend a little bit
02:36
of that character in their whiskey
02:37
along with the vanillas, along with some of the creaminess,
02:41
and sugars I get out of a nice whiskey.
02:43
I'm tasting A, let's see how that goes.
02:46
Before I taste, actually I just want to tell you one thing,
02:48
you don't have to be too dorky about it.
02:50
You don't have to do that Kentucky chew, sorry Kentuckians.
02:53
You don't have to be like breathing in
02:54
and doing all this weird stuff
02:55
because one, that's not how you're really going
02:57
to drink whiskey realistically.
02:59
And two, I think it just looks a little weird.
03:04
That is a gorgeous whiskey.
03:05
Not only did it demonstrate beautiful aromatics
03:09
of that orange blossom and that butterscotch
03:12
but the finish, which we often talk about with the whiskey,
03:14
this was really warming and smooth.
03:17
I got a lot of additional beautiful flavors
03:19
on what we call the retronasal olfaction,
03:22
which is when you breathe out and the aromatics pass back
03:25
through those receptors at the bridge of your nose.
03:27
And it doesn't really trigger too much
03:29
of my trigeminal nerve which are pain receptors.
03:32
So sometimes that can be a good thing, right?
03:34
So we like spankings, or cinnamon, or spicy wings,
03:39
and likewise, we can like a little bit
03:41
of that in our whiskey.
03:41
This, however, was sublime, it was rich.
03:44
To me, this is a sign
03:45
of a really fabulously made scotch whiskey.
03:47
Let's take a taste of B.
03:53
Ah, this is so different.
03:55
This one is very thin, it disappears very quickly.
03:58
It doesn't last that long and sometimes you want that
04:00
in a whiskey, it's actually fine.
04:02
Maybe it's before dinner, whiskey is an occasion after all,
04:05
unless you're like me and you have it for breakfast.
04:08
One of the ways that distillers can get flavor out
04:12
of their whiskey, really tweak the flavor,
04:14
is the type of still that they use.
04:15
Single malt scotch distillers,
04:17
and I believe this to be a single malt scotch,
04:20
they use pot stills.
04:21
So those are those big, giant, onion copper stills.
04:25
The blended whiskey,
04:26
a type of still that they use called a column still,
04:28
developed in the late 1800s.
04:30
And that allowed distillers to continuously distill 24/7
04:35
without that batch distillation overhead of cleaning
04:39
and starting up and firing up the stills.
04:42
So I believe this is also a column distillation.
04:45
So I'm excited.
04:46
I'm gonna reveal which one I think is the expensive whiskey.
04:50
I believe A is the expensive whiskey.
04:53
This is the whiskey that someone would pay a premium for.
04:59
[cheering]
05:01
I got it.
05:02
Well, I'm very excited about this.
05:03
165 dollars a bottle and it shows.
05:07
I felt like I could sit with this for a long time
05:09
and that is the sign of a wonderful single malt scotch.
05:12
And with the blend, this is perfect when you roll out of bed
05:16
and you're like, I need a drink with my oatmeal.
05:18
This is the jam.
05:21
Hey, hello, rye whiskey.
05:23
One of my favorite types of whiskey.
05:26
I would call it the American underdog.
05:28
I will taste it and nose it in a beautiful,
05:32
old-fashioned tumbler.
05:33
I love using these for, actually most of my whiskeys.
05:36
I love the look, I love the feel of these.
05:38
I throw a whiskey in these glasses,
05:41
put ice on it and just enjoy.
05:42
Rye whiskey is different than bourbon
05:45
in that rye must be made with 51% rye as it grains,
05:50
as opposed to bourbon which is made with 51% corn.
05:53
You can use other kinds of grains in that 49%
05:56
but as long as it's 51% rye, aged in new oak casks,
06:00
we can call it a rye whiskey.
06:02
Before prohibition, rye would've been
06:04
the most popular whiskey enjoyed in the United States.
06:07
When the first immigrants came over from different parts
06:10
of the world, they would've tried growing rye
06:12
before growing anything else.
06:14
Now, one of the things about American whiskeys
06:16
is that wonderful, big, robust, loud, in-your-face flavor
06:21
that comes from those new oak casks
06:23
which deliver an influx in flavor.
06:25
They hustle right up to your nose,
06:27
they come out, they hug you,
06:28
and they say, I'm American whiskey.
06:30
There's a slight bit of spice and kick to a rye whiskey.
06:34
Let's see if I can get some of those elements
06:36
out of this whiskey.
06:39
Good news everybody, I get those notes.
06:42
This whiskey really demonstrates some of that grassy,
06:46
herbaceous, white pepper quality that I want
06:49
to smell in a rye.
06:50
What I'm finding a lot on the shelves these days
06:53
is that they're kind of, pun intended, blending together.
06:57
The smell of rye and bourbon and all these whiskeys
07:00
that are jumping on the market.
07:01
It's hard to tell the difference amongst them.
07:03
I don't get an incredible a lot of complexity in this
07:06
but it's giving me what I want in a rye.
07:08
Moving on to B.
07:10
Now, if color is an indicator of price,
07:14
this whiskey, of course, looks very dark, very aged.
07:18
I'm going to assume that it's been in the cask a lot longer
07:21
and if it's in the cask longer,
07:22
it's going to cost a little more.
07:24
But we don't know for sure.
07:25
The color differential is tremendous here.
07:27
These ryes will not be colored with caramel.
07:30
I'm looking at this color of this beautiful whiskey.
07:33
A nice, dark, rich color.
07:34
I'm guessing that it's over two-years-old.
07:39
I get the elements of the herbaceous note,
07:43
that white pepper note
07:44
but because it's been aged for a while in wood,
07:47
it's not as much as I got out of this whiskey.
07:49
Now, I'm guessing that A is much younger.
07:52
So what we're getting are some of the notes
07:54
of the wood that are, I don't want to say masking,
07:56
but silencing, maybe quieting those rye, herbaceous notes.
08:01
Right now I'd say I like them both equally on the nose.
08:04
I like this for the richness and I do like A
08:07
because it's really just very obviously a rye.
08:09
Whiskey A...
08:14
I really, really get the grain on this.
08:17
The longer a whiskey sits in wood,
08:19
the more distant you become in terms of the aromatics
08:23
to the actual original grain.
08:25
A good distiller will retain the character of the grain
08:28
and use the wood in combination to create complexity
08:31
so that you can taste it all.
08:32
What I like about this is the wood
08:34
is not overpowering this rye whiskey.
08:36
Moving on to B, obviously you can see the darker color here
08:41
which I know this to be aged longer in wood.
08:44
Does that age mean that this is a better whiskey
08:46
or a better rye?
08:50
Much bigger mouth feel, more luxurious.
08:53
It's velvety which I love about this whiskey.
08:56
But for a rye drinker,
08:58
I would say I have to search for the properties of rye
09:00
that I didn't have to search for in A.
09:02
But what's interesting is that, I believe,
09:04
this ones probably the more expensive whiskey
09:07
because it's been aged for so much longer.
09:09
And I can see that from the wood color.
09:11
I can taste that, I can get that from the viscosity,
09:15
the mouth feel, it's very velvety,
09:17
very luxurious rye whiskey.
09:19
I believe that whiskey B is the more expensive option.
09:27
Aha, not only is this one more expensive.
09:31
This is a 400 dollar rye whiskey.
09:34
Incredible.
09:34
This whiskey, obviously rare.
09:38
We're getting up to a rare, vintage, 10-year-old rye.
09:41
They're harder to come by.
09:43
I'd go for this, this is perfectly fine for me.
09:46
I'm a cheap date, this is great.
09:49
You just put this on the rocks and I am good to go.
09:54
Okay, we have Irish whiskeys here.
09:57
One of my favorite styles of whiskey.
09:59
What makes Irish whiskey traditionally so wonderful
10:02
is that it's a lighter, it's a fragrant,
10:04
tends to be a more approachable whiskey.
10:07
There's a nice finesse to them.
10:09
They tend to be floral, a lot of times triple distilled.
10:13
So the more you distill, the more of the heavy congeners
10:16
and molecules you're getting out of that spirit
10:19
and refining what that whiskey smells and tastes like.
10:22
So, looking at this color, I don't see anything stand out.
10:25
It's a nice golden hue, probably not super aged.
10:30
I get some lily of the valley,
10:33
garden, spring-time feel to this.
10:35
Green grass mixing with those beautiful vanillas
10:40
that you get out of wood.
10:41
So I want to say that this whiskeys aged
10:43
in maybe a couple of different kinds of wood.
10:46
There's not as much as a hard definition of Irish whiskey.
10:50
Of course, it must be aged in Ireland, graded in Ireland.
10:53
But there is many different kinds of Irish whiskeys
10:56
as there are American and Scotch whiskeys.
10:58
Whiskey B, I'm curious.
11:01
I don't really see a difference in color
11:04
between these two whiskeys.
11:07
Whiskey B has a lot of the same qualities as whiskey A.
11:11
That same spring-time feel, very approachable, easy whiskey.
11:15
The difference with B is that I have
11:17
to dig in a little bit deeper to get at it.
11:19
It doesn't waft at me the way A's did.
11:22
The may come from the same distillery.
11:24
Now, this is an unusual.
11:26
In Ireland, there are large distilleries
11:28
that are making many of your favorite brands.
11:30
Out of that distillery,
11:32
they're going to create a pot still whiskey
11:34
or a blended whiskey or a grain whiskey.
11:37
This one is like a floral fruit basket.
11:39
It feels like something I want to drink today,
11:41
it is the spring time.
11:43
Whiskey A...
11:49
That is a yummy whiskey.
11:50
Does that sound like a whiskey expert?
11:52
Well it does today.
11:52
It's almost like confectioner's sugar mixed with flowers,
11:57
a little bit of honey, and then some richness.
11:59
It's like nectar of the gods.
12:01
It's golden, beautiful, little nugget from heaven.
12:04
Okay, let's go to B.
12:05
I kind of want to stick on this one
12:07
'cause I really love this whiskey.
12:08
I want it to be the cheap one.
12:10
I don't think it is but I don't know, maybe it is.
12:18
It's not bad, it's not bad.
12:19
Actually, I have to say it's offering
12:22
a lot more on the taste than it did on the nose
12:24
and this surprises me.
12:25
Some overlapping flavors with A.
12:28
There was that confectioner's sugary kind of thing.
12:31
But I would say it didn't have the complexity.
12:33
Port sipping whiskey, nothing fancy.
12:35
But this one had a sexiness to it
12:37
that I would drink over and over again.
12:39
I'm going to guess that A is the more expensive whiskey.
12:43
And if it isn't, I will buy cases of this
12:46
because I think it's great.
12:48
I actually might buy cases of it anyways.
12:54
104, 35, oh man.
12:57
So if you're looking for a fabulous Irish whiskey,
13:00
something as sublime and beautiful as this,
13:02
look for a pot still whiskey.
13:03
I think you'll come pretty close
13:05
to finding something this beautiful.
13:10
Okay, we've got bourbon here.
13:12
And I can tell immediately
13:13
that this one is darker than this one.
13:17
This might be a little bit older.
13:18
Bourbon is, I like to think of,
13:19
as the heart and soul of America's great whiskeys.
13:23
It is made with at least 51% corn,
13:27
that right there is your biggest differentiating factor
13:30
between bourbon and other kinds of American spirits.
13:33
American whiskeys standout amongst the rest for it's big,
13:36
vibrant, robust, nutty flavors.
13:39
You know what it is right away
13:40
and that's because American whiskeys must be aged
13:44
in brand new oak casks.
13:46
A lot of people like to think of these new casks
13:49
as the first dip of a teabag into hot water.
13:52
Tons of flavor get in there very, very quickly
13:55
and we tend to drink our bourbons at a younger age
13:58
then you would an aged, aged scotch.
14:00
Which can be 30, 40, 50-years-old in some cases.
14:04
Now whiskey A,
14:07
right away I get orange peel,
14:09
some citrus which I love to have in an American bourbon.
14:14
I almost even get some cedar and pine,
14:16
like some fresh wood in this.
14:18
Something tropical, something a little pineapple-y.
14:21
That puzzles me, actually.
14:23
Some of those tropical notes that I'm smelling
14:25
and some of the fruitiness,
14:26
probably developed during distillation in combination
14:29
with some of the vanillas I'm getting from the wood.
14:32
And that complexity let's me know
14:34
that this is a well distilled spirit.
14:36
So here I am, I'm gonna pour B.
14:37
As I said, I can see already before I even poured these,
14:41
ones darker than the other.
14:42
Bourbon makers do not using coloring in their whiskey
14:44
so this is a little darker
14:45
but not so much where I would definitively say
14:49
that's an older whiskey.
14:51
Ah, totally different.
14:52
I love that, I love that these are so different.
14:54
There are three ingredients: water, yeast, and grain.
14:57
When we talk about a perfumed whiskey, this is perfumed.
15:00
This is rose, carnation almost,
15:02
I feel like I could bath in this.
15:05
So let me move on to the taste.
15:07
Before I even taste it,
15:08
I want to say that as it's been sitting here,
15:10
I am getting some of the deeper caramels
15:12
and butterscotch notes out of this.
15:13
It's starting to open up, warm a little bit.
15:16
So, again, that leads me to think
15:17
this might be the older whiskey.
15:19
I'm not sure though.
15:22
That's very beautiful.
15:23
If you had one of those candied oranges,
15:26
that's what I get on the back palate.
15:28
It's very warming which I like in an American whiskey.
15:31
I want it to make noise.
15:33
The viscosity of it is not as thick
15:36
and rich as I thought it would be.
15:38
Maybe like a eight to 10-year-old whiskey, I'm guessing.
15:41
Let me taste B.
15:46
That is a nice, classic, American bourbon.
15:49
This has that toasted marshmallow,
15:52
the caramel, it doesn't ask too much of me.
15:54
It doesn't have this incredibly long finish.
15:57
The viscosity isn't as rich as, say, a very old aged scotch
16:01
but it still delivers a really nice flavor.
16:03
It coats my palate.
16:04
My guess is that these are Kentucky bourbons.
16:06
The majority of whiskey that you see on the shelves
16:09
will come from Kentucky.
16:11
Because of those complexities of aromatics,
16:14
I'm going to say both of these whiskeys
16:16
are at least 2-years-old.
16:18
My guess is this one is probably the older whiskey
16:20
because of that strange, tropical notes.
16:23
This pine needle-y thing in there.
16:26
I'm going to guess that whiskey A
16:29
is the more expensive whiskey.
16:33
Oh, yes!
16:37
I like that.
16:38
The reason why I chose A as the more expensive whiskey
16:40
is because it was just unusual.
16:42
And that's what I really thought was compelling about A
16:46
and would justify it's price.
16:47
And don't be afraid to go to a bar,
16:50
order two, and do exactly what I'm doing
16:52
and see what your palate says.
16:56
Japanese whiskey, let's dig right into this.
16:59
It's a beautiful style of whiskey
17:02
from none other than Japan.
17:03
But what a lot of people are surprised about
17:05
is that the Japanese have been making whiskey
17:08
for close to a hundred years now.
17:10
The defining factor of what makes a Japanese whiskey
17:14
a Japanese whiskey is really a philosophy
17:16
to the approach of making it.
17:18
So while there's these hard rules of what can be a scotch
17:21
and what can be a bourbon,
17:22
what defines Japanese whiskey
17:24
is really the way the whiskey maker interacts
17:27
with the stills, the grains, and the whole process
17:31
that creates that flavor.
17:32
It can be summed up
17:33
in something called continuous refinement.
17:35
If there was a change to be made, they'd change it.
17:38
They'd slowly, slowly tweak that whiskey time and time again
17:42
until they got something refined and beautiful.
17:44
I had one distiller tell me,
17:46
If the whiskey you taste now tastes the same in 10 years,
17:49
then I have failed.
17:50
So if I were to look at this Japanese whiskey,
17:53
obviously it's very light in color.
17:56
I expect that also to relay on the nose and let's find out.
18:05
This is an extremely, extremely light whiskey.
18:08
And light meaning that I don't get an incredible amount
18:12
of flavor.
18:13
A little bit of lemon and I do find that in a lot
18:15
of the big Japanese whiskey makers, Yamazaki in particular.
18:19
They're one of the big distilleries,
18:19
they often get a little bit
18:20
of a lemon note on their whiskeys.
18:22
Moving on to whiskey B from Japan.
18:24
I can see it's a little bit darker.
18:26
So just comparing color in a glass,
18:29
they become more similar when you compare apples to apples.
18:33
But already from here,
18:34
I have not even put this to my nose yet
18:37
and I can smell this whiskey.
18:38
It's a lush fruit basket for lack of a better word.
18:43
Ah, this is lovely.
18:44
If you could imagine a pear dipped in honey.
18:47
It's got a little bit of vanilla, some sugars in it,
18:50
it's just absolutely gorgeous on the nose.
18:54
So, let's taste.
18:59
This tastes an awful lot like scotch.
19:01
Very light, very easy, very approachable.
19:04
I'm assuming this is a young whiskey
19:06
because I don't get a lot of bouquet coming off of that
19:09
but the texture of it's very creamy.
19:11
I think Japan is really known for creating this complexity
19:14
that makes you think twice about the whiskey.
19:16
Let me move on to this one.
19:18
This is B.
19:21
Ah, what a surprise.
19:22
This whiskey is amazing.
19:25
It smells soft and orchard-like and a lot of bouquet
19:28
but on the back end, after I swallow,
19:30
right back here, there's a real dry kick to it.
19:33
There's like a pop of tannins on the back end
19:36
which lets me know that this has been aged over time
19:38
to get some of that wood property.
19:40
I love that in a whiskey, that's my favorite thing.
19:42
Both of these whiskeys demonstrate something,
19:44
which I call true complexity,
19:46
which is that the nose is making you feel like it's going
19:48
to move down one path and then you taste it
19:50
and you're like, whoa there's something different in there
19:53
that I really didn't expect.
19:54
And both of these whiskeys do that.
19:56
Because of that tannic back end, I know that this is aged.
19:59
I can see the color, this is aged.
20:00
This is the older whiskey
20:02
and therefore more expensive whiskey.
20:05
So for the reveal, 45 and 200.
20:10
Yes, that is very expensive whiskey.
20:12
This whiskey is fabulous, definitely worth that 200 dollars
20:17
when you compare it against many other whiskeys
20:19
of the world.
20:19
We've tasted a lot of whiskeys today.
20:21
I've talked about olfaction, mouth feel,
20:24
viscosity, age, price-points,
20:27
but it's an experience and it's an occasion.
20:29
And I don't think there's anything wrong
20:31
with you picking up a whiskey and saying, I love it.
20:34
or, I don't like it.
20:36
Cheers.