Welcome back, everyone. With two stops checked off the itinerary so far, we’ve all had the opportunity to get a good feel for this whiskey and at least form an initial opinion of Angel’s Envy. From what I have seen, I’m happy to say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So, as we’re getting ready to pull into our third stop on the bourbon express, I’d like to take a moment before we debark to talk about a relatively controversial issue that I’ll be addressing today.
Bring it up in certain whiskey circles and you’ll kindly be asked to leave, while among other groups it seems to be a perfectly normal, almost expected behavior. I’ve witnessed quite a few heated discussions on this topic in bars, among friends, and of course on the wild frontier that is social media. Any ideas what this contentious issue it is that I’m about to step in barefooted? Age statements? Artificial coloring? Chill-filtering? No, no and no. I’m talking about something far more serious and divisive! Whether you are for it or against it, or somewhere in between, I’m sure you have your own opinion on the matter at hand, and by that, I’m referring to……….. ice in your whiskey. (long silent pause, slowly removes hands from covering eyes to take a look around…) Ok, the sky hasn’t fallen, I guess I can continue.
For this session, I will still be doing my usual neat tasting to see what changes I am able to detect from the previous review, but whatever is left over in the glass after I take my notes, I will pour over a freshly made ice ball to see what happens. Hopefully, it doesn’t immediately become undrinkable, as some might suggest.
Without getting too deep into the mire, I would like to touch on the different styles of ice and the effects you could reasonably expect them to have on your whiskey. I’m sure there are several other ways to present ice than what I’ll be discussing here, but let’s focus on the major players. Unless you’ve made some special effort, most people who decide to put ice in a drink will simply go to their freezer, grab a handful of cubes and toss them in their glass. This is simple enough to do and there’s no need for any special equipment. Going one step further (and this is something I used to do for my Rusty Nails) is to take those same ice cubes from the freezer, hold them in the palm of your hand, and give them a good whack with a tablespoon. Tada… cracked ice. This method is only recommended for drinks you will be making for yourself when you’re relatively confident in the cleanliness of your hands. For guests, you could always put the ice cubes in a plastic bag and smash them with a bar utensil. A third option and one that requires a little forethought is the use of ice molds to make nice big, round ice balls.
I’m purposely leaving whiskey stones out of the discussion because for one, as long as they are clean, they don’t influence the flavor or viscidity of your whiskey, and two, we each only have 2 front teeth and the memory of those rocks bashing into mine while trying to enjoy an adult beverage is enough to make me want to cry. The bottom line with ice is that the more exposed surface area on your cube(s), the greater the melt and the more watered down your drink will become. Now this isn’t always a bad thing as many cocktails, especially shaken ones, benefit from higher melt rates found in cracked or shaved ice, but the relatively smaller surface area of a round ice ball produces a much slower melt rate and reduces the amount of water that ends up in your drink. It may seem a bit counter-intuitive that a large ice ball melts slower than a handful of smaller cubes, but remember, it all comes down to surface area. Now that we got that covered, let’s get on to the whiskey!
As usual, a big burst of juicy sweet red fruits escapes from the bottle the second the cork pops free. After pouring a reasonable amount into a Glencairn glass, I can quickly tell the nose is still filled with that berry sweetness I’ve grown accustomed to over the past few sessions. Also still quite evident are the usual suspects… raisins, vanilla, oak; and that cigarette ash from the last time has transformed into a much more pleasant charcoal or charred oak backdrop. I know it hasn’t been that long since opening the bottle, but after detecting a slight decrease during the last tasting, I had subconsciously prepared myself for a further reduction in the effects of the port wine finish on the palate.
As I raised the glass to my waiting lips, the plum and red fruit sweetness intensified in my nose and throat, and I braced my palate for the anticipated onslaught of ripe berries and tropical fruits. While taking that first sip, my nose was telling me a mouthful of raspberry jam was on the way, but for a brief moment, as I waited for my mind to connect with my taste buds, I couldn’t find it. I let the liquid move around my mouth a bit and just before I was about to swallow, it happened. It was almost as if I bit into one of those juice-filled hard candies and the sweetness I was craving began oozing out. From there, everything else began to fall into place and the Angel’s Envy I’ve come to expect materialized within moments.
Maybe I didn’t let it sit in the glass as long as usual before taking the first sip (I didn’t), or maybe a hint of lunch was still occupying precious space on my palate (quite likely), but it just goes to show how seemingly insignificant external forces can influence your impressions of a whisky on any single tasting session. If anything really stood out on the palate this time around, I’d say it has gotten a little dryer, leaving more of that woody “sucking on a toothpick” taste in my mouth. But it was that same finish that really left the best impression on me. Alongside the dryness, which I didn’t care for, those tropical notes that I DO enjoy really stuck with me for some time… the coconut, the pineapple, and when I sought it out, the banana.
Taking all this into consideration, I still think this whiskey has some time to go before reaching its peak flavor. It is opening up and I find that I’m getting more, quicker. This could be me anticipating certain flavors versus having to go hunting for them, but it could also be the oxygen doing its part to expose the individual flavors. Compared to last month’s tasting, I don’t think the changes were as drastic, but I don’t hesitate to say that I believe this is the best it has tasted to date.
I’m not afraid to say that I occasionally enjoy my whiskey (and my whiskey) on the rocks, and I’ve been pretty anxious to try Angel’s Envy in that fashion but have been hesitant to do so until it had the chance to show a little more of itself. I think we have finally reached that point, and so with about an ounce left in the Glencairn, I poured it over that ice ball in a rocks glass to see what it would do. The most obvious effect was the temperature of the whiskey. It’s actually quite refreshing to sip on a cold whiskey, albeit at the expense of some of the more subtle nuances, but if you don’t wait too long, the effect isn’t that extreme. Obviously, the longer you wait, the more the ice melts and the more diluted your whiskey will become. The color begins to lighten and the oak moves from the background to become more dominate. Once the cooling effects from the ice have really settled in, the nose is all but shot, but so is any trace of alcohol burn. Faint notes of wood spice and vanilla are still evident but the majority of the port cask finish has been washed away, allowing a more traditional bourbon-ness to come through, specifically that signature corn note, but in a softer, less sticky way. As someone who’s not particularly crazy about that in-your-face sweet corn profile of many bourbons, the inclusion of ice is a welcomed addition that not only mellows the bite but helps alleviate the dryness in the finish as well. To top it off, it doesn’t hurt that temperatures hit the mid-90’s today; whatever was lost in the way of complexity, was made up for in pure whiskey refreshment.
That will do it for this month, everyone. Thanks again for coming along for the ride and whatever your thoughts are about adding ice to whiskey, if you haven’t tried it with Angel’s Envy, I would encourage you to give it a chance. If you do it and find you still don’t care for it, well… at least you tried, and that’s part of what this #bourbonjourney is all about. Please take a moment to share your thoughts about this post or about your experiences / preferences with ice in general in the comments section below. See you next month… Cheers!! #drinkcurious