Americans have a weird and fairly awful propensity to want to stick things into neat little categories. It enables us to start a lot of sentences with the phrase, "Well, actually ... " or other ways to make ourselves obvious. Fortunately, we also have that grace-saving habit of embracing novel ideas every once in a while. Sometimes these originals are the result of brilliant innovation or, as often, a blind accident. ... And there I go, putting things into categories again.
A lot of innovation in the liquor world involves what super-mellow hotel art painter Bob Ross called "Happy Accidents." The story goes that Bulleit was gearing up for a bottling run when a technician mixed a tank of bourbon and their rye. Now, a lot of bourbons have some rye in them (like 5 percent), but a 50/50 mix is something else. You can't unmix a vat of whiskey; at that point, you've got what you've got.
Seeking to salvage what looked like a complete loss, Bulleit sold the mixed whiskey for pennies on the dollar to the only willing buyer: a distillery in Utah that no one had ever heard of called High West. They called it Bourye. The company claims Bourye is one of those innovative novelties in homage to the cowboy's spirit. Well actually, it looks a lot more like a pure cock-up that was saved with a last-minute Hail Mary. Good stuff, though.
Local spirits store Doc's Wine and Spirits is introducing its Doc 52 Blended Whiskey. It's also a 50/50 Bourbon/Rye blend. It's a limited release, retailing for $49.99, that hit the shelves on November 17th. Doc's is using their own limited release rye (the entire run was sold out in advance) with a mash bill of 51 percent rye and 49 percent corn. This, manager Ryan Gill tells me, makes for a sweeter rye, that has a bit of yellowcake feel to it. Not the sort that you make nuclear dirty bombs out of, but the moist, delicious kind.
"What we like about this rye," says Gill, "is that blending with the bourbon gives it a heavier mouth feel that turns the yellowcake into rum cake. It really turned out well."
Gill started out in the liquor business as a wine guy, making custom blends for customers, but he has been dragged, chuckling along, into the bourbon boom. "I did the same thing with wine — drink everything, compare products. Two bourbons from the same distillery, with the same mash bill, housed for years on different floors of the same warehouse will taste different in the bottle."
Picking and choosing barrels with Gill are Mike Jones, a Certified Bourbon Steward, whose moustache is only slightly less famous than his palate, and Angie Adams, who would be a steward, too, if she'd only take the damn test.
I asked all three the crucial question: "So what's Doc's Blend taste like?"
Angie said, "Trying to explain what other brand it tastes like does it a disservice." Truly, that sounds like something a woman who hasn't taken her finals would say. On the other hand, she's completely correct.
Mike said, "We're creating something new — so it's difficult to say. Hard to pigeon-hole what it is. But it's good stuff." True enough.
Gill was a little more technical in his answer, but still a little vague. "I can't put my finger on it. The composition is very close to a Basil Hayden, or even a Granddad, but it tastes like neither."
From where I'm standing, Granddad and Basil Hayden taste completely different. Which brings us back to that indefinable element of sensory things that makes it impossible to stick them into neat little categories. It's the je ne sais quoi, which literally translates from French as "I don't know what."
Fortunately, there is one solid and fool-proof way of finding out what the Doc 52 blended whiskey tastes like. Give it a try.