Reviewing the bourbons I used for the Great Brownie Bake-Off Battle…Clyde May’s Alabama-Style whiskey and Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat

Reviewing the contenders

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!

[Side note: the tasting review below also include my recent notes from when my family and I held a tasting panel for the whiskey used in last week’s bourbon brownies (TL=me, S=my daughter, D=her fiancé).]

 

Clyde May's Alabama-style whiskey lineup in bottles
A wonderful lineup for a summer’s day

Clyde May’s Alabama-style whiskey

At Gordon’s DTX, July 26, 2017

Clyde May's Alabama-style Whiskey 

42.5%ABV
4 years aged in oak
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: American Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Whiskey
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones

Tasting Notes

  • 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

Notes

Bourbon Brownie panel tasting
At home, May 1, 2018
  • Nose
    • TL: honey, orange, grain, rye
    • D: vanilla, nectar
    • S: caramel, vanilla, sweet
  • Taste
    • TL: rye, grain, tart green apples, black pepper, cardamom, cloves
    • D: strong, not burning strong, clean on the palate
    • S: cinnamon rolls
  • Finish
    • 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 

46%ABV
Lot of corn, some rye and malted barley, 5 aged, non-chill filtered
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: American Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Whiskey
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: soft nose, corn predominant, musty
  • Taste: oily, creamy, chewy, vanilla fudge, pepper at the end
  • Finish: wood and rye lingers
  • Comments: an approachable whiskey; water softens it further and corn peeks out, goes down like satin

Clyde May's Special Reserve Whiskey 

55%ABV
6-7 years aged
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: American Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Whiskey
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: green apples!
  • Taste: apple juice, then caramel and 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 9yr Cask Strength Whiskey 

58.5%ABV
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: American Whiskey, Cask Strength, Rye Whiskey, Whiskey
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: more traditional bourbon nose - vanilla, oak, corn
  • Taste: has a hit, corn and 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
Clyde May's Alabama-style Whiskey literature
The distiller’s info about the lineup

 

Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat was the other dram my family & I tried when I was preparing to make the Bourbon Brownies a product of my adopted home state of Massachusetts:

Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat

43%ABV
Straight bourbon whisky aged in oak and finished in Laphroiag and Ardbeg casks, adds an ashy quality to the taste
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: American Whiskey, Reused Peated Cask Finish, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Whiskey
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones

Tasting Notes

  • 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 and peat add a real nice twist to traditional bourbon

Notes

Bourbon Brownie panel tasting
At home, May 1, 2018
  • Nose
    • TL: light nose, vanilla, white chocolate fudge
  • Taste
    • TL: some smoke, slightly caramel
    • D: smooth
    • S: sweet caramel
  • Finish
    • TL: smoke at end, fades to ash, menthol at the very end
    • D: medium finish
    • S: ash at end
  • Comments
    • TL: I like the smokiness, peat hides the typical bourbon flavors
    • S: doesn’t like it
Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat in bottle
An interesting combination of bourbon and peat

 

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!

Tammy

 

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