Five Rainy Day Whiskeys – to sip, not save!

To call late autumn or even winter a “rainy season” in San Francisco, where I live, may once have been accurate. Now it’s only occasionally so. Quite often it’s at least cold and foggy—though that could also describe August! Last week we did have a rare few consecutive days of rain. That’s good enough reason to break out some of my favorite rainy day whiskeys!

So many whiskeys could be on this list. You’ll notice a tendency here toward higher proof outings—they’re warming. But honestly, I wasn’t thinking about proof when I made this list. These are simply the five that first jumped to mind for me.

Let me know in the comments below what else jumps to mind for you, whenever you’re wanting to pour a little sunshine in your glass to brighten the cloudy sky outside.

Cheers!

KNOB CREEK SINGLE BARREL BOURBON
Preferably a store pick of some uncommon age

MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley

PROOF – 120

AGE – varies from ~9 years upward

DISTILLERY – Jim Beam

PRICE – $60 on average these days

Over the past handful of years the store pick releases of Knob Creek Single Barrel have crept from $50 to $60 a bottle. They’re still a good deal. Though not literally cask strength, at a standard 120 proof they’re strong enough. The days of the 14 and 15-year releases might be gone. But at the current 9 and 10-year average, $60 is still a reasonable price to pay for what Knob Creek SiBs consistently offer. Solid and layered oak notes, syrupy chocolate, pulpy orange peel, an array of cinnamons, and rich roasted nuts are just a handful of the dependable flavors one can expect. The high proof keeps things warm, and the flavor profile keeps things cozy. Sipped near the hearth or the campfire, a Knob Creek SiB will keep the winter’s chill at bay.

LAGAVULIN 12 YEAR CASK STRENGTH

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – varies

AGE – 12 years

DISTILLERY – Lagavulin

PRICE – $150 to $200 on average

Though I favored the 2015 over the 2018 release, it’s difficult for me to imagine a Lagavulin 12 Year that doesn’t offer some variation on an exceptionally elegant, beach bonfire of a whisky. Salt, granite, vanilla custard, lemon zest, fruits like peaches and sweets like caramel and honey… Rather than the dark dense warmth of Knob Creek, Lagavulin 12 Year offers the bright light and crackle of a fire on the seashore. The maritime aspect always blends well with a cloudy rainy day. Seafood is a must if you can arrange it. A glass of this with a warm shellfish stew or baked salmon? Sounds like a perfect winter evening to me!

OLD POTRERO RYE
any cask strength single barrel

MASH BILL – 100% malted rye

PROOF – varies

AGE – typically ~6 years and up

DISTILLERY – Hotaling & Co.

PRICE – $100 or so

How I regret not buying a second bottle of the exceptional 2019 Old Potrero SiB #13, picked by K&L. How my senses still remember the unique blend of fig, vanilla taffy, and dry late-summer grasses wafting from the 2017 chardonnay cask finished SiB, also snagged by K&L. Even when an Old Potrero SiB leans more into the brand’s malt than its fruit and candy notes, it’s still richer, cozier, and more startling than most rye whiskeys out there. Not only will an Old Potrero SiB keep you warm, it will keep you awake. Since the 2022 rebranding, single barrels have yet to return—though the brand’s website promises “Single Barrel Reserve” releases are on the horizon, perhaps aged to even 8 years.

REDBREAST 12 YEAR CASK STRENGTH

MASH BILL – a blend of malted and un-malted barley

PROOF – varies

AGE – 12 years

DISTILLERY – Midleton Distillery

PRICE – $100

I actually poured the glass in this photo on a rainy day, and suddenly the clouds parted and let the sun in! Take it as the power of Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey to bring life to the party. Irish whiskeys have always been party whiskeys for me, and I don’t mean that pejoratively as when people refer to a whiskey as “good for mixing,” i.e. not so good on its own. Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength would make a great Hot Toddy or Irish Coffee—and I wouldn’t be above using it for either of those cocktails. But on its own, of course, it’s stellar. The nose rings with a copper pot spiciness around rich vanilla caramel and tropical fruits, all of it rather restrained given the proof. The taste then comes on salty and zingy, with taffy, thick dripping caramel, chocolate, and loads of dried tropical fruits. It finishes much like it tastes. An excellent whiskey—whether to add figurative light to a party, or, apparently, literal light to the sky!

RUSSELL’S RESERVE SINGLE BARREL BOURBON

MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley

PROOF – 110

AGE – ~9 years on average

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey

PRICE – $60 to $80

How can any Top Whatever Category Whiskey list not include Wild Turkey? It’s the most dependable brand on the market, with high quality options from the top on down to the bottom shelf. A good batch of Wild Turkey 101 could certainly keep you warm in the drizzliest months. But a nice Russell’s Reserve SiB has that extra sumpin sumpin. The age hovers near a decade. The proof is a solid 110, just a few degrees down from the brand’s respectable 115 entry-proof. That means a minimal amount of water is added, which means good things for flavor. Expect a range of dark cherry notes and all the flavors of a freshly baked cinnamon roll, served up on refined oak. This one always conjures the autumn and winter holidays for me.

LAST CALL

My personal ideal climate would be heavy rain from 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM every night, then clear blue sunshine the remaining twenty-one hours. Where is that place?

That said, I can also imagine getting bored. I grew up at a time and in an area of northern California, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where all four seasons were represented with distinct weather patterns. The changing seasons marked time, kept the natural world healthy, and sparked creativity. Seasons remind us of the necessity of change.

Living in San Francisco for most of the past few decades, I’ve grown accustomed to what feels like one and a half seasons—a kind of perpetual love child of spring and autumn. What seems like summer and winter make relatively brief and isolated appearances. These sudden and fleeting moments feel quite different, carry less weight, than settling in for a long season—rearranging your closet with sweaters up front, eating seasonal foods, going about daily life in accordance with the light and climate. Also, gearing up for the psychology of the season. Spring makes everything seem possible. Summer compels exuberance. Autumn is a time to reflect. In winter we go inward and search our soul. Then spring beckons us out again, and on life goes.

So I take San Francisco’s passing wintery moments, even when it’s not literally winter, as an opportunity to lean in to the season. One way to do that is to toast the cloudy cold with its complimentary opposite, a glass of sunlight—sometimes setting, sometimes dawning, sometimes bright midday, but always warming and cozy.

Cheers!

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