Jan 7, 2016

The One and Only Buckwheat...

The One and Only Buckwheat (42.5%): Well, whisky geeks always enjoy a healthy dose of controversy and to be honest we are not short of them... So, here is another one: Can we call a spirit distilled from Buckwheat whiskey or not? Even Catskill Distilling Company prefer to use a very cautious tagline on their own website: "A new breed of American Whiskey is born" and the term "whiskey" is nowhere to find on the actual bottle and/or label. TTB defines American Whiskey as spirits distilled from a fermented mash of "grain". So to start with, buckwheat is not a grain but a "pseudo-cereal" therefore the spirit in the bottle shouldn't be called whiskey. Hold your horses there, not that easy though... If you continue to look into it a little more you will find out that in some sources American Whiskey is defined as a distilled beverage from a fermented mash of "cereal grain". Now things take a turn here: Since pseudo-cereals are counted as cereal grains all of a sudden Buckwheat classifies as whiskey. Corsair Distillery somehow managed to label their buckwheat and quinoa based spirits as whiskey with TTB approval before. Well, that means some rules can be bent without breaking them... Let me add another level to this discussion before I move on: "grain" and "cereal" are synonymous terms in botany but not in agronomy or commerce. So, maybe there is no issue after all if we refer to botanical terms... Anyway, like I said let's move on but I might comeback and edit this post later if I ever find more info about this issue. Let's taste some "distilled spirit"... The mash the spirit is distilled from contains 80% buckwheat and 20% other grains. Color: Medium amber, orange blossom honey. Nose: Toasted staves, smoked oolong tea and crunchy French bread crust. Eucalyptus, dry clay and wet cement blocks. Honey on cornflakes, raw brown sugar. Makes me think of a hike on a rainy Fall morning in the mountains: wet green wood, damp soil and moss. Palate: More eucalyptus... Peppermint Altoids and hint of chestnut honey. Waxy, woody and chalky. Burnt sugar, dry hay and tobacco. Roasted hazelnut, blanched bitter almonds and tons and tons of wood shavings. We have a seriously bitter palate here. Finish: Long with peppermint, dry basil leaves and linseed oil. Overall: I was so prepared to fight again against the bitterness and all those tannins coming from the small barrels only but instead I got hit with the eucalyptus and peppermint craze... My tongue is still sizzling. Wood influence is still pretty dominant and bitter (very bitter) but there are strong minty and grassy notes in the spirit as well. Adding water amplifies the bitterness of the wood on the palate, so I am not sure if it is needed at all. You need those grassy notes to fight against the tannins... Yes, Actually this whole experience made me want to go back to all classic rye whiskey cocktail recipes and try them with buckwheat spirit instead. Thanks to Stacy Cohen, VP of Catskill Distilling Company for being so communicative and accommodative when I was trying to arrange my visit to the distillery in a very narrow time frame. If you find yourself in Upstate NY it's definitely worth to pay the distillery a visit, you will not be disappointed...

Catskill Distilling Company line-up

Catskill Distilling Company, Bethel NY