Editor's note: CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge is in Alaska doing "research." This is part of an ongoing series sharing his culinary adventures.
"Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough." —Mark Twain
Luckily, for foodies making the inside passage from Vancouver north to Glacier Bay, there's lots of time at sea. That means cruise ships look for ways to educate vacationers, preferably in ways that may pry open their wallets.
Following my aromatic bitters adventure with Dale DeGroff, I decide to cruise around the world of whisk(e)y. This instructive tasting shows (in clear terms) what happens when you distill different grains. There are obviously many, many other variables, but I find the differences striking as we taste dark spirits from Ireland, Canada, the U.S. and, finally, Scotland. While it's all made from yeast-fermented grain mash, tasting the grains side-by-side is most instructive.
I've listed the particular spirits sampled, followed by the predominant grain and then the drink's most notable takeaways.
Jameson = Barley Blend = Mellow/Fragrant
Jameson is produced from a blend of grain using malted and unmalted or "green" Irish barley, all sourced from within a 50-mile radius around the distillery. It's triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of four years.
Crown Royal = Rye = Smooth
This blended Canadian whisky was first created as a gift for Queen Elizabeth II's parents to celebrate their visit to Canada in 1939. This is a good choice as an introduction to whisky. It's lighter and unmistakably smooth — almost creamy. I once did a comparative tasting of whisky for Manhattans; rye was the preferred choice. And, hey, it's Don Draper's preferred grain.
Tatoosh Bourbon = Corn = Smokey (in place of bourbon's normal sweet edge)
This surprising low-production whiskey is from Seattle instead of Kentucky. It's a mashup of Southern family moonshine heritage, Cascade Mountains glacier water and American oak casks, where it lurks for three yeas. It's very aromatic, but doesn't make me forget Maker's Mark. Lacking that touch of sweetness associated with most bourbon, it has a rough smokey edge.
Glenfiddich = Malted Barley = Fiery Butterscotch
One-hundred percent single malt Scotch. Glenfiddich is the world's best-selling single malt. It has more fire than the previous spirits and is an acquired taste. Though you need to work your way up to single malts, once you get hooked, beware! There's a whole complex realm of whiskies out there and much to explore.
You can do a similar comparative tasting at home and see which style fits your palate. These whiskies are not for use with mixers; it's a waste of valuable dollars. Drink your whisk(e)y neat — without ice — or with a tiny splash of pure water. When you've discovered your palate, you can decide if you'd like it on the rocks.