Mixmasters of the Art

Marrying Beers, Whiskies; Wade Woodard’s Whiskey Blog

Some years after I became familiar with the fundamentals of beer and spirits, I started experiments to blend bottles at home. Apart from it being intuitive to do so, it is a literal extension/modification of the mashbill common to both drinks, or of their hop component (or other flavouring), in the case of beer. And needless to say producers have been doing it forever, sometimes to achieve a particular flavour, sometimes for consistency.

The idea to mix comes as mentioned from the mash which typically is a combination of malted and/or other grains. So by mixing finished whiskies, you are adding more elements, or more perhaps of the same type. One distiller might make a whiskey, say, from barley malt and corn. Another, from barley malt and rye. Mix both, you have a mashbill of barley malt, corn, and rye, which is a typical bourbon mashbill.

Lot 40 Canadian whisky is 100% rye. If I mixed that with the Hudson bourbon that is 100% corn in varying percentages, I’ll arrive at near a typical bourbon mashbill, okay I’ll add a dash of Scots malt whisky to throw in the malted barley. Some consider that mashing and distilling these when combined vs. as separately produced results in a different taste. I just don’t agree with that after many years of experimenting.

If I mix a Busch beer, which must be 50% grain adjunct today (it tastes like it) with a 100% malt beer I find too sweet, by simple calculations I can get the percentage of adjunct I want to dry down the palate, 50/50 produces 25% adjunct, which sounds about right, or I may aim for 15 or 20% adjunct.

A lot of British and Belgian ale traditionally uses a percentage of maize or something functionally similar, perhaps sugar, or both.

Finished beers and whiskeys of the same class, and even of different classes often, can produce an alternate taste you may like more than the constituents. At a minimum, it produces variety without increased expenditure.

I do this all the time, it’s not rocket science but it’s surprising how many people are resistant to it. My favourite story, I’ve told it before, is I once ordered two 1/4 oz. samples of whisky at a LCBO tasting counter and combined them. A lady next to me was heard to state, “Is that legal?”. (Don’t say it’s a typical Ontario story, it can happen anywhere).

The practice to marry or mingle created the Scotch blending industry and the Canadian whisky style, as well as cocktails. It lurks in the background to the development of porter, among other beers. Mingling occurs even with the same whisky type as the same whisky from different warehouses or parts of warehouses may taste different, hence batching them to get a more uniform taste.

Every barrel can taste rather different in fact, even when all other variables are the same, even when the barrels sit near each other.

Recently an excellent primer on marrying or mingling whiskey was given in Texas-based Wade Woodard’s whiskey blog, see www.tater-talk.com. I know Wade well, he is a devoted student of whiskey and long-time participant at the world’s premier bourbon (and related whiskeys) resource, www.straightbourbon.com.

Wade established his blog, Tater-Talk, a while ago but I just learned of it. He was kind enough to mention me recently in connection with the home blending of bourbon, specifically in relation to the Weller brand, see here. I discussed my minglings frequently when active on the SB forums, and as Wade notes, some people called the practice Gillmanization.

In his post Wade quotes at length an industry professional who makes some interesting statements about whiskey blending. Many things stated go back a long way in the industry.

The idea for example to barrel up for a few months married whiskies is advised in this 1885 manual by Joseph Fleischman, down to using if possible an oak container to do the marrying, see pg. 28.

Fleishman gives various blending formulas, with a progression of quality based on how much straight whiskey is used. If you use all-straight whiskeys, the highest quality, you are really vatting to use an old British and Irish term. The analogy with blending practice over the Atlantic is perfect.

I don’t quite agree with everything the expert stated. For example, I’ve mingled whiskies that produce instantly a harmonious silky texture and taste, one doesn’t always need time to develop this. And conversely, some whisky blends remain disharmonious no matter how long you rest them.

In general though I take the point that “time in a bottle” improves married or mingled whiskies. It’s the effect of some oxidation and other complex processes (see the post again).

Wade has great knowledge too of the U.S. whiskey regulations and labelling practices, and offers many insights in his writing. If you like reading about whisky, don’t miss his regular postings.

Obs. It won’t surprise anyone reading that logically, one ends by mixing beer and whisky. And of course some people do, in beer cocktails, and via, too, the frequent practice of bourbon barrel aging of stout and other beer. Hopped whisky is the other side of the coin, as is whisky finished in a barrel that held beer. Even wines come in for the treatment now – and vice versa.

It’s a bibulous fusion, we see it in cooking – what else is a recipe but a blend – but also in combining elements from different national cuisines, and in contexts outside food and drink, music, say, that may influence how people prepare food and drink, perhaps even subconsciously.