It is always an unalloyed delight to have David Wondrich visit Portland. His vast knowledge of spirits---and even more, his obvious pleasure in sharing that knowledge with others---makes him ever welcome. It’s a sincere pleasure to belly up to a bar, put the foot up on the rail and clink glasses with Wondrich, figuratively or otherwise.
This most recent visit was even more welcome, for he was in town to assist Tad Seestedt and the crew at Ransom Wine and Spirits introduce their latest public offering, The Emerald 1865 Whiskey, a culmination of more than three years of development.
As David and Tad tell the story, The Emerald 1865 project came about from a discussion during an otherwise tedious and boring plane ride back from Europe. David was, as usual, opining on the actual history of spirits, in particular whiskey, as opposed to the fanciful stories and legends that are told.
Specifically, David told Tad, the way whiskeys were made and what they were made from often bear little resemblance to the way whiskeys are made today by the large corporations. And wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to taste that old style made today…
Three years later, after numerous consulting sessions over mash bills and arcane alchemical techniques (i.e., distillation) of the distant past, David and Tad were standing in front of a rapt audience to introduce the results: The Emerald 1865, an American Straight Whiskey that is an homage to Irish whiskey and the way it was in the 1800s.
Again, as David tells the story, it seems the distilling practices and mash bills (the types and blends of grain used) were not as strict or tightly codified as they are under current rules and practice. Irish (and Scotch) whiskey/whisky now are seen as essentially malted barley-based spirits (even though they yet contain other grains in the majority of their iterations).
After careful research and in constant consultation with Wondrich, Tad Seestedt embarked on a journey of discovery and experimentation, attempting to replicate the old style---or at least one of the old styles---of Irish whiskey. He blended malted barley, unmalted barley (the unsprouted version of the grain), rolled oats and rye grains, experimented with differing proportions, distilled them in small batch alembic stills, and aged the resulting whiskey in oak barrels.
The result? Similar to the model of Irish whiskey, but with significantly more presence. There’s a slight and appealing rough, spicy edge to The Emerald 1865 that is unlike the usual Irish of today with its polished, sophisticated, clean and sometimes almost sanitary style. And there’s more “bottom” to the whiskey, a more solid and satisfying foundational structure (perhaps due to the inclusion of oats? Who knows; more research is called for!)
If you’re looking for a trip back to yesteryear in whiskey history, combined with a damn fine tasting experience, seek out a bottle of The Emerald 1865. You’ll be glad you did.