More than any other factor, Pinhook’s approach to blending and proofing sets its bourbons and ryes apart from other whiskeys on the market.
Bourbon and rye brands typically use blending and proofing to achieve a consistent flavor profile year after year. We don’t worry about that. Instead, we’re looking to create the best-possible batch of whiskey by embracing natural variations in the wood of the barrels, the climate (both outside and within the warehouses), and the grains used to create the alcohol. This approach results in a unique vintage every year, much like you’d find in a wine.
We always say Pinhook is blended and proofed to be different. Here’s exactly what we mean by that...
Pinhook lets the flavor profile of a new vintage reveal itself over several rounds of blending. Let’s say we are creating a 100-barrel blend. In this case, we actually start with samples from 130 individual barrels, the goal being to determine which 100-barrel combination results in the best-tasting and most interesting blend. To make the blending process more efficient, we break the single barrels into groups of 10, each group becoming a mini-blend, or “block,” to be used in our first round of tasting. This gives us 13 initial blocks.
After these 13 blocks are created, we taste each one to determine its top-level flavor profile. Once we understand the major themes of each block, we can develop a plan for how we can best blend them together, and indeed which 10 of the 13 blocks to blend together.
Some of the blocks will, at random, be exceptionally good, and these give us a benchmark to pursue—and even surpass—once we’ve layered different flavors together for the final blend. Sometimes we hit on a flawless blend on the first pass. More often, we build off the blend from the first round and nail it in a second or third round. Less often, it takes six or more rounds before we know we’ve gotten the best out of this particular group of barrels. We always go at least a full six rounds just to make sure, but we’ve usually found our blend a couple rounds before we hit the finish line.
Blending is always done at cask strength, or straight from the barrels, undiluted. So our blends usually come in at a proof in the low 120s, or 60 percent alcohol by volume. From there, we taste the blend at a range of proofs, or levels of additional dilution with water. A whiskey can express itself differently with just slight changes in dilution, so we taste the blend at several proofs in a given range to see at which one its best qualities shine through—it should offer a complexity on both the nose and taste buds that lingers after a sip, but with a balance and texture that make the sip “go down easy.” Because alcohol is meant to carry flavors to the palate, not be a flavor in and of itself, the proofed blend should also feature what we call alcohol integration, which means you are tasting those complex, balanced flavors free of an accompanying alcoholic heat.
For our flagship bourbon and rye, the proof that accomplishes all of the above lands somewhere between 97 and 101, which makes it great on its own, on the rocks, in cocktails, or with a mixer. For our high proof bourbon and rye, we want to showcase the rich, dense, robust flavors that come with proofing just a few points below cask strength. These releases usually land in the 116–120 proof range.
When producing a given release, we typically take multiple blends into the proofing stage, because it’s possible that the one we liked best at cask strength doesn’t drink as well at a lower proof.
Blending and proofing are the keys to our pioneering vintage approach to bourbon and rye. They are the stages of production at which our endless curiosity becomes a real benefit, leading us to experiment until we land on perfection. Just as a winemaker highlights natural variations in the grapes and barrels in creating a great-tasting vintage, never thinking to replicate a previous flavor profile, we do the same with whiskey. If we’ve done our job, you’ll experience a rush of compelling flavors when you sip a Pinhook bourbon or rye, with a great texture and finish but no accompanying heat. You’ll be sipping a special whiskey unlike any that came before it, blended and proofed, as Pinhook always is, to be different.