The Thirsty Travellers were given a unique opportunity earlier this month: helping to create NOLA Smokehouse and Bar’s new house-blend whiskey.
In an Australian first, NOLA teamed up with US-based Reservoir Distillery and Sydney whiskey fans to add a new spirit to the mix. And The Thirsty Travellers – wearing our Drinks Digest hats for the night – contributed to the creation of the winning recipe, which will be bottled and shipped to Australia in early 2022!
NOLA is located at Barangaroo in NSW. It takes a contemporary approach to vintage flavours from Cajun and Creole cuisines and Southern BBQ. Think Dry Rubbed Carolina Pork Ribs with habanero glaze & caramelized pretzel; Caramelised Onion Gumbo with spanner crab, sweet corn & rice; and Sweet Southern Cornbread with green tomato chow chow butter.
NOLA’s bar stocks more than 600 American whiskies, the largest collection of US spirit in Australia. The selection includes many limited edition and hard-to-find single bottles, with the most expensive pour going for $720.
Reservoir Distillery was founded by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino in Virginia in 2008. It was only the third bourbon-whiskey distillery to be established outside of Kentucky and the pair were on a mission to honour their southern heritage, while also shaking up the conventional whiskey world.
The result is three styles of 100% single grain whiskies – bourbon, rye, and wheat – with the distillers encouraging fans to create their own personal blends, using tasting packs of all three spirits.
At NOLA’s special whiskey mixing session, attendees collaborated in small teams and used Reservoir Distillery’s unique range to submit blends for judging by NOLA’s panel of expert whiskey tasters.
A pre-recorded video from Reservoir Master Distiller Dave Cuttino was played at the start to welcome everyone to the event and give a short summary of the distillery to help set the mood. Master of ceremonies was NOLA Bar Manager Scott Allan (below), with assistance from Oliver Maruda and Chris Ross – co-founders of The Whisky List – which is the importer and distributor of Reservoir in Australia.
Throughout the evening, Allan took us through flavour wheels about each of the three Reservoir expressions, and provided samples of a typical mash bill to highlight the grain and show how the flavours change.
Everyone at the event received a personal blending kit, consisting of whisky tasting glasses filled with whiskey samples, measuring beaker, Pasteur pipettes and extra bottle of each style of Reservoir whiskey to aid with blending their own recipe or “mash bill” as it’s commonly known and referred to in US whiskey circles.
Learning a whiskey’s mash bill helps identify if you have a taste preference for a particular grain medley. For example, to be labelled a bourbon in the US, the whiskey mash bill must be at least 51% corn based, which leaves 49% of the spirit to play with.
A standard or typical bourbon is one made with a three-grain mash bill including corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley. The ratio generally falls somewhere in the ballpark of 65-75% corn, 10-20% rye, and 5-15% wheat or malted barley.
To put this in perspective, here are a few well-known American whiskey mash bills.
Jack Daniels: 80% Corn, 8% Rye,12% Malt
Wild Turkey: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malt
Makers Mark: 70% Corn 16% Wheat, 14% Malt
Van Winkle 68% Corn, 20% Wheat and 12% Malt (approximately).
The first three rounds at the NOLA mixing event were designed to educate our palates and focused on each grain (corn, wheat and rye). Teams submitted their own mash bills per round, with the judges selecting a winning team per round. Round 1 was to focus on a sweet styled bourbon-majority mash bill, round 2 dived into the best wheat mash bill, and round 3 explored the spicier rye to help educate each contestant’s palates. Winners from each round were gifted a small 375ml bottle of the round’s featured expression.
A selection Southern-style smoked meats and sides were provided between each round. They were absolutely delicious and we can’t wait to return to sample them again.
Once each team became familiar with how each grain style interacted together and influenced flavour, it was time for the final round. It was held as a ‘free for all’, with each team encouraged to design their perfect mash bill based on the learnings and experimentation from the previous three rounds.
Some teams were traditional in their tastes and went with more typical bourbon-forward mash bills, which highlighted commonly associated bourbon flavours of vanilla and caramel; other teams submitted unique blends, such as 40-40-10, which were more full-bodied, bolder and spicier on the palate.
The resulting whiskey recipes were judged by Brock Tregellas from Whiskey Hunt Australia; Simon Hopkins, Beverage Director at NOLA Smokehouse and Bar and Swinging Cat; and Videl Chacon from the Bourbon Rye Australia Sipping Society.
NOLA’s Bar Manager Scott Allan noted: “What surprised me most about the evening was experiencing the broad range of flavours that the three core Whiskeys could display when blended together. It was very interesting to see the creative choices each group made when submitting a blend to the judges. Some found a particular flavour that worked really well for them, and some tried to achieve an overall experience that balanced each of the three elements in an interesting way. I saw lively discussions on the tables about adding a percentage point more of this or between two mash bill contenders. Thanks to each round honing the room’s blending capabilities, the end result is something that all the guests who attended can take some credit for helping to craft.”
Oliver Maruda, Co-founder of The Whisky List – Australian importer and distributor for Reservoir Whiskey – added: “What a fantastic event! Combining elements of whiskey tasting, learning how to do whisky blending, and good old fashioned teamwork, it was wonderful to witness each team united and dive in for the challenge of designing their own American Whiskey recipe or mash bill.””
“We saw a great selection of different blended recipes submitted across each of the rounds, making it incredibly difficult for the judges to select an overall winner, but in the end it was a combination of 64% corn, 18% rye and 18% wheat that took out the win.”
“Comments from the judges mentioned a very well balanced whiskey with a nice oily-ness and subtle spice to round out the whole thing. Congratulations to Table 2 for winning, which included Drinks Digest editor Alana House and Whiskey Editor David Fuller. Alana and her team took a very meticulous approach to their blending, trying to learn what makes each of the different whiskies unique, such as the Reservoir Bourbon showcasing traditional sweetness and vanilla notes from the high corn base; testing which flavours their team enjoyed best and complemented each other across different ratios tested to settle on their final winning submission.
“This is the first time Reservoir Distillery has run this type of ‘design your own whiskey’ event in Australia. It was fantastic to partner with NOLA Smokehouse and Bar who focus their entire ethos around great American cuisine and of course American Whiskeys. They know how to put on great events and their expertise in pairing some great food with the whiskies was second to none. The winning blend is now going to be bottled and sold exclusively by NOLA at the bar. It’s very cool knowing that each contestant who competed in the blending competition contributed to helping create something truly unique for American Whiskey lovers in Australia. We will be looking to take this style of event to other locations across Australia in 2022.”
Be your own whisky blender at home
As part of the launch of Reservoir Whiskey in Australia, The Whisky List is offering a three-pack of half-size bottle (375ml) of each whiskey in the range – the Bourbon, Rye and Wheat – for $199.
It’s a great Christmas gift idea for whiskey lovers. The Thirstry Travellers were fascinated by the process of mixing corn, wheat and rye whiskies. Small adjustments in the percentages of the blends during our mixing experience at NOLA led to big changes in the flavour profiles.
It was an amazing experience to watch whiskey aficionadoes in the room at work. Joining a team with excellent whiskey noses who really knew their stuff and took our night to a whole new level, as we benefited from their knowledge and prowess.
It was obvious that Allan was excited the moment we gave him our 64-18-18 blend so the bartender could concoct it for the judges. His eyes lit up when I handed him our mash bill. And our eyes lit up when the winning team was announced! It was a great experience and was a fascinating introduction to the subtilties of whisky blending.
Click here to learn more about Reservoir Whiskey and its mixing packs.