Last week I held the Great Bourbon Brownie Bake-off Battle, pitting Clyde May’s Alabama-Style whiskey against Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat in celebration of the Kentucky Derby. In that post I mentioned that I had actually tasted both these whiskies back in July but had never published my review. Well, Dear Reader, it’s time to rectify that grave mistake as both these expressions, indeed the whole line up from that day, deserve their place in the sun (or at least on this blog).
First, let’s talk bourbon. According to that repository of all worldly information, Wikipedia:
Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey, a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn.
Well, that’s simple enough. Here are some of the legalities for a spirit to be called bourbon:
- Made in the United States
- The grain mixture is 51% corn
- Aged in new, charred oak barrels
- Bottled at 80-proof (40% ABV) or more
While Kentucky produces 95% of the bourbon in the US, Tennessee is also home to some major bourbon producers (although they prefer to call their product Tennessee whiskey instead). Clyde May’s takes a traditional approach with a twist…the mash bill contains corn, rye, and malted barley with dried apples thrown in, so it can’t technically be called a bourbon (hence the name “Alabama-style” whiskey). The story goes that the Clyde May decided to add the dried apples to take the edge off the rye. Whatever the reason, the resulting spirit is amazing!
Here’s how Gordons DTX introduced the lineup on that long-ago summer day:
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey, official Alabama state whiskey,is a bourbon recipe that has the “Alabama Style” as the secret ingredient. Clyde was a moonshiner over 70 years ago and his brand has now been resurrected. The full product line boasts a creamy sweet and fruitiness followed by that bold rye kick.
Side note: the tasting review below also include my recent notes from when my family and I held a tasting panel for last week’s bourbon brownies (TL=me, S=my daughter, D=her fiancé).
Clyde May’s Whiskey – 85 Proof
4 years aged in oak
- Nose: sugar starts, vanilla underneath, rye shows up, too
- Taste: soft, satin, no burn, cinnamon apples, rye
- Finish: rye lasts
- Comments: such a smooth sip!Not harsh at all, entry level to whiskey – sweet without being cloying
Bourbon Brownie panel tasting, May 1, 2018
- TL: honey, orange, grain, rye
- D: vanilla, nectar
- S: caramel, vanilla, sweet
- TL: rye, grain, tart green apples, black pepper, cardamom, cloves
- D: strong, not burning strong, clean on the palate
- S: cinnamon rolls
- TL: long, cloves, nutmeg, baking spices, not a peppery burn, herbal quality
- D: long finish, clean
- S: I like it
Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 92 Proof
Lot of corn, some rye & malted barley, 5 aged, non-chill filtered
- Nose: soft nose, corn predominant, musty
- Taste: oily, creamy, chewy, vanilla fudge, pepper at the end
- Finish: wood & rye lingers
- Comments: an approachable whiskey; water softens it further & corn peeks out, goes down like satin
Clyde May’s Special Reserve Whiskey – 110 Proof
Alabama-style, 6-7 years aged
- Nose: green apples!
- Taste: apple juice, then caramel & cinnamon, amaretto, not peppery
- Finish: sweet Jolly Ranchers, green apple sugariness
- Comments: almost too sweet, the proof belies the softness of the sip; with water the rye shows up but still green apple lingers
Clyde May’s Cask Strength Whiskey – 117 Proof
Alabama-style, 9 aged
- Nose: more traditional bourbon nose – vanilla, oak, corn
- Taste: has a hit, corn & rye, then white chocolate & cinnamon
- Finish: cinnamon
- Comments: strong but not distinctive; with water, smooths it out, rye shows up, sweeter, warm spices on the tongue
Here was the extra dram for the evening, a product of my adopted home state of Massachusetts:
Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat – 86 Proof
Straight bourbon whisky aged in oak and finished in Laphroiag and Ardbeg casks, adding an ashy quality to the taste
- Nose: citrus, lemon, sweet
- Taste: peat surprises! Corn first, smoke sneaks in, cream shows up
- Finish: vanilla softens the finish
- Comments: the more you drink it, the more the bourbon characteristics show up (corn, rye), the smoke & peat add a real nice twist to traditional bourbon
Bourbon Brownie panel tasting, May 1, 2018
- TL: light nose, vanilla, white chocolate fudge
- TL: some smoke, slightly caramel
- D: smooth
- S: sweet caramel
- TL: smoke at end, fades to ash, menthol at the very end
- D: medium finish
- S: ash at end
- TL: I like the smokiness, peat hides the typical bourbon flavors
- S: doesn’t like it
Clyde May’s “Alabama-style” approach may preclude the name bourbon, but the taste is absolutely worth it. Berkshire Bourbon’s unique aging process lets that expression stand out from the crowd. My advice? Sip them, bake with them, enjoy them.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!