Hard Water Newsletter, December 2016 Edition
WELCOME! This is the sixth edition of our monthly newsletter, last of 2016. It's the best way to keep up on changes to our extensive American whiskey selection as well as a general source of information about whiskey and whiskey culture.

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New Arrivals on the Wall

Barrell Batch #009 13yr 56.05%, $16/2
The latest release from Barrell in Tennessee. If you are a fan of Willett Family Estate single barrels, these are the new kids on the block to watch. It's a batched Bourbon so the age statement only refers to the youngest whiskey in there.

I.W. Harper 15yr 43%, $15
While not new to us or the market, we were recently able to secure more of this popular older age statement Bourbon. Light in body with nice oak notes, it rewards slow sipping. If you're sitting at the bar, be sure to give the classic mid-century modern decanter bottle a heft.

Old Forester ‘1920 Prohibition Style’ 57.5%, $16/2 oz
The most recent offering in Brown-Foreman's Whiskey Row series of Old Forester releases. This is the first one bottled at proof greater than 100. A big bourbon.

Rebel Yell 10yr Single Barrel, 50%, $7.50
Hotly anticipated since we first tasted it at WhiskyFest back in September. Like all Rebel Yell releases, the Bourbon is sourced from Heaven Hill, however this one is reportedly using the Old Fitzgerald wheated mashbill.

Redemption Barrel Proof “High Rye” 9yr 54.5%, $15
Redemption Barrel Proof 9yr 55.3%, $15

Two new barrel proof releases from Redemption. Like all Redemption offerings, the whiskey was sourced from MGI in Indiana. Both have plenty going on in the nose, palate, and finish.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10yr Barrel Proof 60.1% $9
This is Smooth Ambler's first barrel proof release in a while. Lots of pecan and leather in the nose. A whiskey that gets better as it sits in the glass and gets some air.

Et Al...

Our usual reminder that we don't announce ALL our new arrivals. We like to leave a few things as surprises for patrons scanning the wall on their own. There's a couple of very special and very limited bottles up there right now as I write this. In fact, looks like some people have already discovered 'em.

Our complete December whiskey list can be found here.
Westland Peat Week Comes to Hard Water

On the 14th of December, we were hosts to a most special whiskey tasting event sponsored by our friends at K&L Wines. The occasion was the (very limited) local release of a highly peated American single malt from Westland in Seattle. Usually getting a chance to sample, let alone purchase, this beast requires a trip up north for Westland’s annual Peat Week event. This year, their third, the circus was brought to us right here in San Francisco. For the occasion, Matt Freerks, Sales Director, came down to lead us through the tasting.

Matt Freerks of Westland DistilleryIn addition to the Peat Week release, made using Scottish barley dried over Highland peat, guests were treated to a sneak peek of a new seasonal release, appropriately entitled “Winter.” Guests were also welcomed by an Old Fashioned made with the regular release single malt and Abbott's bitters. All of the whiskies poured were complemented by a progression of bites by Hard Water Chef Thomas Kalb.

The Peat Week release can be purchased directly from K&L Wines here. The supply is very limited so act soon if you are serious about getting a bottle of your own.

Note: This is our first collaboration with K&L. We expect more to come in 2017. We'll start promoting through this mailing list so stay tuned!

A Guide to Tasting Whiskey

The following is based on materials developed for Hard Water staff training over the last couple of years. There’s a lot more here than might be casually absorbed during a single visit so this month we thought to share this information the newsletter. We’re also keeping printed copies on hand behind the bar. If you are interested having one of these on your next visit, just ask!

This guide is designed to help improve your tasting skills, which generally leads to a deeper appreciation of any spirit. Note that knowing how to taste whiskey is different than critically evaluating it. Which is to say, it’s up to you to decide what you may like or dislike about a whiskey.

General Things:

Up to 75% of the experience of taste is actually olfaction (smell) with the tongue (taste receptors) providing the remainder of the experience. The import of this is that it pays to spend more time nosing a whiskey than tasting it.
It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between tastes, of which there are only five (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami), and flavors, which can be almost unlimited in variety. When trying to identify a flavor, it can be helpful to start by naming a taste and then expanding on it. For example: you may say a whiskey is sweet. Then ask yourself: “What is it sweet like?” which might lead to saying “It’s sweet like caramel” or “Sweet like a watermelon” and now you’ve identified a flavor.

Remember that not all aromas and flavors in a whiskey may prove to be pleasant. The most common unpleasant flavor is that of wood tannin, which binds to receptors on the front of the tongue to create a drying sensation. This is found most frequently in older whiskies and can sometimes dominate other more interesting flavors.

Approaches to Nosing:

Unlike wine, repeated swirling of whiskey in the glass is not advised. This brings up more alcohol than aroma, contributing to the sense that the whiskey is “hot.” Swirling a few times right after it’s poured is OK however.

Think of the glass as a kind of lens that brings aromas in focus. When bringing the glass up to your nose, inhale gently and slowly. For each of us, there will be an optimal distance where you perceive maximum aromas. Look for it! (Don’t exhale into the glass.)

Many tasters leave their mouths slightly ajar when nosing whiskey. Play with this and notice whether it makes a difference for you. You can also try switching nostrils—for most of us there’s a difference in sensitivity between our left and right sinuses. And it can change from day to day.

As you spend time nosing, clear your mind and let the whiskey speak to you. Rather than “looking” for specific aromas (i.e. taking an inventory), simply note what arises out of your subconscious, even if it’s fleeting. This often leads to unique descriptions. Remember also, there are no right or wrong impressions.

Approaches to Tasting:

After you feel you’ve spent enough time nosing, you can move on to actual tasting.

One commonly taught method for spirits tasting involves taking two separate sips, breathing in before each. On the first sip, hold the whiskey for a few seconds and make sure it thoroughly coats the inside of your mouth and tongue and “readies it” for evaluation. (Some people spit this sip.) On the second sip, pay more attention to the actual flavors and where they occur, i.e. on the front, sides, or back of your tongue. On both sips, remember to slowly breath out through your nose after spitting/swallowing. This helps to engage sinuses in the back of throat, revealing more flavors/aromas. As with nosing, when you taste, clear your mind and let the whiskey speak to you. What flavor associations arise?

Some whiskies have what’s referred to as a long tail finish. This means that for many seconds after a sip, you will continue to note flavors and aromas. Slow exhaling through the nose heightens this effect. For older whiskies, this may be a period during which the sensation of wood or tannins will fade or not.

You may want to drink a little water between tastes. Sometimes this is a good thing (refreshes the palate) and sometimes it oddly diminishes the sense of flavor of the sips taken right afterward. Some tasters also find a bite of apple or pear can refresh the palate without significantly altering the flavor of subsequent sips.

What About Adding Water?

It’s important to understand some of the reasons why you might add water to whiskey, other than that you heard it’s what one should do. Here are the reasons:

Adding water reduces the proof. For some tasters, whiskies at barrel strength (i.e. most anything over 100 proof) may be perceived as too hot. So water can be used to reduce the proof of a whiskey and make it more approachable.

Adding water releases additional flavors and aromas. There is actually good science in support of this. Adding water will break open a molecular structure that can form in ethanol at sufficiently high concentration. This structure, called a micelle, traps aromas/flavors (AKA congeners). What’s important to understand about this, is that what’s trapped inside the micelles may not necessarily improve a whiskey, only change it. Which is to say, you might have liked a whiskey better before you added the water.

It may be your habit to want to add water before tasting. You are however encouraged at least try any whiskey just as it came out of the bottle first. Just be mindful of what you are about to try. Some of the whiskies we offer are quite high in proof!

You may have been told to add just a drop or two of water to “open it up.” This may be true for a whiskey bottled under 90 proof, but in barrel strength whiskey that’s not enough change in proof to break open micelles and release trapped flavors and aromas.

If you are uncertain how much water to add, it is recommended that you do so a few drops at a time, noting changes in aroma and flavor after each addition. There’s usually a “sweet spot” where proof is lowered and trapped aromas and flavors are released to positive effect.

What About Adding Ice?

This is a very personal decision. Many people enjoy their whiskey over ice, which has the effect of both cooling and diluting the spirit. Some experts and afficionados claim that ice, which can add a lot of water in an uncontrolled fashion, dulls the overall experience. If you are unsure, it’s always fine to start without ice and add it after trying the whiskey ‘neat.’ You may find you don’t need the ice. However, once the ice has been added, it’s effects cannot be undone.

Large ‘rocks’ of ice, because they have less surface area than several small cubes, offer the effect of cooling with slower dilution; spheres of ice have the potential to provide the most controlled experience of cooling and dilution. The biggest variable is the quality of the ice itself. Bagged ‘party ice’ melts faster than cubes. Smaller cubes (like the ones you make at home) melt faster than larger cubes (like the ones from a commercial ice machine). And cloudy ice, regardless of size, melts faster than clear ice.

In the end, it’s really up to you how to maximally enjoy your dram.

More questions? Feel free to ask any of the bar staff or just send us an email:
Serious Tasting Hard Water San Francisco
Getting Ready for a Craft Distillers' Flight

Sipping Stories | Hard Water

Last month we were paid an unexpected visit from the folks behind a new video-focused travel web site Travelspective. The team was in San Francisco wrapping up shooting for an upcoming feature on our lovely city and decided (we think on the spur of the moment) to add a segment on Hard Water. Short but sweet, it's a lovely paean to American Whiskey. Enjoy!

Sipping Stories | Hard Water

Ask Hard Water

We're always standing by to answer your American whiskey questions. This past month we had some questions about bottled-in-bond whiskey that stumped a number of "experts" so we're feeling pretty saucy about ourselves. Maybe your question will stump us!
We look forward to hearing from you! Write soon!
Three new 2016 releases from Westland
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