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Whiskies that work at a lower proof

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@OdysseusUnbound
OdysseusUnbound started a discussion

I’ve got an exceptionally good bottle of Forty Creek Barrel Select at home right now, and it got me thinking: would this really be better at a higher ABV?

As a general rule, I prefer whiskies at 46% or higher, but I’m not sure this particular Forty Creek would be improved at a higher proof. Opinions? Ever run across a whisky that was better at a lower proof? I believe someone (maybe @Robert99 ) said in another thread they prefered Redbreast 12 at 40%.

6 years ago

12 replies

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

I think there are a lot of issues to unpack in that question. I speak, of course from a bias towards cask strength offerings.

1. ABV does not tell the whole story.

As you know, in some climates ABV goes up with aging, and in some it goes down. So the question is not about the ABV. It is about whether water is added to what comes out of the cask, how much is added, and what that does to the flavour.

2. Some people are super tasters.

Some people can taste some subtle flavours in whisky, and other can't. Some are in between. I know I'm not a super taster but I hope I have some ability to taste subtlety. The less you can smell and taste, the more bold the flavour needs to be. Chris Hadfield talked about how everyone in space likes spicier food because everything tastes bland in space.

3. What is in the cask and what kind of a cask is it?

Depending on what grains were used and the methods of fermentation and distillation, there can be bolder or milder flavours in the distillate. Also, the "rye" spices imparted by the cask depend on the qualities of the wood and the time spent.


Ultimately different people like different things. So while we often see the question "would this be better at cask strength?, I think a more accurate question could be "would I like this better at cask strength.


In general, I would say that while I enjoy all genres of whisky at cask strength, I find Canadian whiskies seem to provide the most "flavour" at 40-43% than bourbons, which tend to provide more than malts. In general. I'm on record having been extremely impressed by Macallan 12 at 43%.

I was at one of the Whisky Weekends at Forty Creek a few years ago, and I was in a Masterclass with John Hall. I think, for the record, that the ticket was courtesy @paddockjudge, my mentor in all things Canadian (whisky). Part of the tasting included each of the component whiskies (barley, rye and corn) as they were from the cask. I was disappointed to find they had been diluted to 45%. When I asked why none of the special releases were at CS, Hall replied that he was looking for a a specific taste and that if different people put different amounts of water in there would be no uniform taste.

This was when I lost most of my respect for him.

A better approach would be to create a product so good at CS that it allow people to add the amount of water that optimizes the flavour for each person individually.

@paddock judge followed up with an excellent supplementary question worthy of a member of parliament in question period. He asked what the cost would be for each 1% increase in ABV to the price of a bottle. At the time id was just under $2.

At $70 for a special release at 45%, I would pay $80 for 50% or $90 for 55%, as long as the product was good.

6 years ago 4Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC replied

Old Pulteney 12, Laphroaig 10, Ancnoc 12 @40%

Benromach 10, Benriach 10 @43%

These are off the top of my head but even so low, are all still very good. That said, I'd much rather they were 46% and NCF natural colour!

6 years ago 0

@MadSingleMalt

Here's some meaty commentary! Great. We need more of that.

@Nozinan, can you clarify your "flavor rankings" from your "In general..." paragraph? Maybe there's a typo there or something, but I'm having trouble digesting your list.

6 years ago 0

@MadSingleMalt

I am most definitely not a super taster. One of the big reasons I like whisky so much is that it delivers a huge wallop of intense flavor. (It's the same reason I like IPAs and spicy food, I think.)

Given that, I don't know of a single whisky that I prefer at a lower proof—or, as @Nozinan very rightly frames it, "with more water." I'm pretty sure less water is always mo' betta for me.

6 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

@OdysseusUnbound, I really like your discussion topic. I've been saying for 5 or 6 years now that quite a few Canadian whiskies get more flavour out of 40% ABV than any others I know of as national whisky genres. And the whisky which most exemplied that for me? FORTY CREEK BARREL SELECT. Probably the biggest flavour at 40% ABV I have ever seen.

Because Barrel Select has a lot of flavour at 40% does not mean it would not be even better at a higher ABV. Tasting would be required for comparison.

Whiskies better at lower ABV? I do have a handful of whiskies up around 70% ABV in which I enjoy adding a couple of drops of water, including maybe four of which I prefer the whiskeys with water. Does that count?

So...for me, no, whiskies better at lower proof are scarcer than hen's teeth.

6 years ago 4Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@MadSingleMalt

I think @Victor said something similar but to clarify, I find that some Canadian whiskies at 40-45% seem to have stronger flavours that other whiskies.

Bourbons seem to be a little stronger at low proof than single malts, but I avoid such bourbons so I don't have a lot of experience with them.

Some notable exceptions to the low ABV low flavour rule for single malts include Ben 10, Mac 12 and Mac 18. Lots of flavour. But I've never directly compared them to their CS equivalents.

6 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Mancub
Mancub replied

I think this is a good topic to discuss and I think that you're on to something. I know many would prefer their spirits unadulterated, or to have the option to choose their ABV, but it's not always an option. All whisky and spirits in general set a mood and there is a time and place for most of us as to what we're in the mood for. Sometimes a Cask Strength whisky hits the spot, and sometimes you're just looking for something mellow and light to fit your mood. Look at Brandy, often enjoyed as an after meal drink and the large majority of those offerings sit around 40%. Would they be better at 46%? CS? I don't know. But it suits my tastes just fine. I think there are whiskies that likely taste better at a lower proof to the right person and fitting the right mood. Peat has it's place, Sherry has it's place, Cask strength has it's place, so lower proof in my opinion must have a place.

Touching on food to draw a comparison. I enjoy spicy food, but my food doesn't always have to be spicy to be enjoyed. And further, not all food is improved by adding more spice.

6 years ago 6Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

@Nozinan

  1. ABV does not tell the whole story.

Are you saying distilleries should move to NABV whiskies? smirk

Lost all respect for John Hall? Wow. That's some serious criticism. I'm glad I wasn't there. I have to admit that I still admire the hell out of the guy. In fairness, I would prefer to have more whiskies at a higher strength (or less water added before bottling) so that I could make the judgment call myself.

6 years ago 0

@OdysseusUnbound

@Victor Anything below 60% ABV probably qualifies as "lower proof" in your case. stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye

6 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@OdysseusUnbound Lost most of my respect. I acknowledge the contribution he has made to Canadian whisky but feel in a way his answer was a cop-out and a symptom of an underlying lack of respect for the consumer.

6 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Robert99
Robert99 replied

@Nozinan I disagree. I am taking his answer for what it is: He was looking for a specific taste. What is surprising to me is that it disregards how different are the flavors we taste. If I was a master distiller I would try to get a rich and complex flavor, pointed if possible, simply because I think those are the keys to please most of the crowd. If John Hall would have tell you that he thinks that his whiskies are more complex at that abv, you would probably respect him a bit more.

6 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Robert99 Agreed. I think that's what I was trying to say.

There is no doubt that at lower ABVs, it may be easier for some to pick out subtle complexities (IF THEY EXIST), but at higher ABVs they may not be so subtle...

of course JH was looking for a specific taste, but as a producer he should be thinking about everyone's tastes and how they differ...

6 years ago 1Who liked this?

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