We run a little feature here at The Takeout we call ‘Today I Learned.’ In it, we share things that we learned today. (Some recent examples: a Chick-Fil-A nugs hack; the Frosty 5K; the German word for champagne drunk.) On June 26, 2018, here’s the thing I learned: I could start my own whiskey blend, right then.
I’m sorry to say that I’m not always a person with a ton of follow-through (ask me about my dictionary “collection,” my typewriter “collection,” my “novel,” my cross-stitching “hobby,” my “other novel,” you get the idea). But in this case, your girl came through. I bought a decanter (this one) that very day, poured almost all of an excellent fifth of whiskey into it, added the last of another excellent whiskey, and began.
Here we are, five months later. Non, je ne regrette rien. It has more than earned its place of honor at the center of my bar cart, and if you ever see me in public, don’t ask me about it, because I will never, ever shut up.
A refresher: The concept of the Infinity Bottle is so named because as long you have whiskey in the bottle, at least a few drops of that very first whiskey remain. You add as you go, pouring in few ounces here and a few there, and the flavor of the whiskey changes with every pour. You’d think adding just a little bit of whiskey to the whole of your blend wouldn’t change it much, but most of the time, you’d be wrong. It’s never the same, and as long as you keep adding to it, it’s bottomless.
Mine has been bottomless, though it’s also been frequently tipped, if you know what I mean. Here are a few things I’ve learned—drams of knowledge, if you will—in my first five months with my sweet, sweet Infinity Bottle.
Dram one: Don’t fuss over it, you’re not playing for keeps
When we (the ‘we’ being me and my partner) started our Infinity Bottle, I was very skittish about 1) adding too many things and 2) drinking too much of it. The latter concern remains, both for our livers and for the taste of the whiskey, but the former has vanished entirely. The reason for that is simple: The worst that can happen is that whatever I add makes the bottle less tasty, and that will correct itself the very next time I pour in some more of the ol’ liquid gold.
That’s my biggest takeaway from this experience, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. Great whiskeys have loads of character, so while it seems unlikely that, say, pouring in a few ounces of New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon would noticeably alter the flavor of the 20 ounces or so already in the bottle, it does change it, sometimes quite a bit. That’s a double-edged sword—if you love the bottle you’ve got, and then all of a sudden it’s not your bag, that’s a disappointment—but it also means that any wrong step is easily corrected.
Mine’s never had a phase in which I thought it was unappealing, but the version before the current one was a little overly sweet for me, still very complex but kind of a lot. Then we added the last quarter of a bottle of Brenne, a French single malt I love, and suddenly it was more delicate, a little floral, with a lovely caramel warmth that made me want to grab a sweater and sit near a campfire pronto. It’s like magic. If you really need to course-correct, adding a 1- or 2-year whiskey tends to neutralize things a bit.
Short version: If you add the “wrong” thing, just add another thing. It all balances out in the end.
Dram two: Don’t hoard your darlings
I mentioned that I love that Brenne. It’s not a cheap whiskey, and not one to which I treat myself often (and in fact, the bottle I poured into my decanter was sent to me by a publicist who saw a mention of Brenne in the first Infinity Bottle post, for exactly that purpose). When we started, I was loathe to add too much of anything, nor to sacrifice any of the whiskeys I really loved, some of them pretty pricy, to this weird experiment. They were so good on their own! Surely drinking them solo was a better use.
That, dear reader, was super dumb. The better the whiskey you’re adding, the better it tastes. Very simple. You still get to drink them, and you’re only sacrificing a small portion of the bottle. It’s worth it.
Dram three: Definitely wait the 12 hours
In Kara Newman’s Wine Enthusiast piece on Infinity Bottles—from whence I learned for what I learned for ‘Today I Learned’—master blender Joe Beatrice suggests waiting at least 12 hours after each addition before you sample your blend. That’s real. I’m not always patient, so I’ve sampled earlier than that, and before it’s really rested, the thing you’ve just added will be super dominant. We added that Brenne quite awhile ago and it’s still more prevalent than it will be in a few days’ time.
Dram four: Shop well, then take notes early and often
Here are the whiskeys I know for a fact I’ve added.
Base: J. Henry & Sons Bellefontaine Reserve, a 5.5-year aged bourbon that’s then aged an additional eight months in V.S.O.P. cognac barrels. I love this whiskey, and I wanted my base to be big and complex with loads of caramel notes. This is all that and more. It was the perfect base for us. Pick something you really love, and you’ll probably be every bit as happy as I am.
Additions: Notice I said “know for a fact” up there. That’s because I got less than diligent with my notes. Whenever we purposefully added the last quarter or so of a bottle, I wrote it down, but the odd wee ounce or two didn’t always make the list. The worst of this is when I was thinning out my bar cart and opted to pour in a few things on the same day, and to drink some others. No idea which went where. But these are in there for sure (and they are all very tasty):
- Koval Single Barrel Bourbon
- MB Roland Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon
- New Holland Zeppelin Blend Reserve (sherry cask finished—just a little of this one)
And these are maybes (again, all very tasty):
- Johnny Drum Private Stock
- A.D. Laws Four Grain Bourbon
- A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye
- Bank Note Blended Scotch
- Two James Johnny Smoking Gun
- Willett Pot Still Reserve
- Chicago Distilling Blind Tiger Bourbon
Hold me to task, internet-folk: I need to keep track of what goes in there. Why does it taste so good? Because it’s whiskey. Why else? Because the base is great. And why else? No idea. Not my finest hour.
Dram five: Ask me again in another five months
It’s early. For all I know, in a month I’ll have added one too many things and rendered my precious undrinkable. Maybe we’ll drink most of it, add another bottle of the Bellefontaine, and start nearly from scratch. It’s an ever-changing, potentially infinite thing. Five months is a blip. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And that is cool as hell.
In conclusion, Infinity Bottles are the shit. If you try one, tell me all your secrets and discoveries, because this is my new favorite nerdy obsession and I want to know it all.