FRAGRANT AND FLORAL
Note: We assign every bottle we review to one of five Flavour Camps, based on the most dominant flavours found. The Flavour Camps are : (1) Fragrant and Floral, (2) Fruity and Spicy, (3) Malty and Dry, (4) Rich and Round and (5) Smokey and Peaty. To learn more about each Flavour Camp, please click here.
The Aztecs knew that your paleo diet isn't working.
It is a big fallacy that non-processed foods are better than processed foods. The ancient Aztecs who lived in Mesoamerica around 1500 BCE can attest to this.
Because the human body cannot fully digest corn (a visit to the toilet after eating buttered corn would confirm this), the Aztecs devised a process to make corn as digestible and nutritious as possible: nixtamalization. The corn kernels are boiled in an alkaline solution until they are softened, and then hulled.
Nixtamalizaed foods (such as corn tortillas) became extremely important to the early Mesoamerican diet. Not only does the process kill off toxic fungus, the process increases the nutritional content of corn drastically. The humble tortilla helped tribes advert the risks of malnourishment and vitamin deficiency diseases which were much more common amongst tribes that relied on the non-processed corn.
The process also improves flavour, and gives tortillas that distinctive intense taste of fresh, sweet, buttery steamed corn that is also slightly malty, roasty and chewy with a slightly fermented vegetal character.
Early this year, the new Abasolo Distillery from Mexico released a whisky made purely from corn. (Abasolo was more recently partially acquired by Pernod Ricard in an apparent shopping spree.) While American bourbon makers use around 51% corn and a percentage of barley, the nixtamalization process allows Abasolo to use 100% corn to make whisky. Nixtamalization also has a direct impact on flavour, causing the spirit to open up with more floral sweetness and warmth of the grain.
The spirit is then matured for 2 years in both virgin and used oak casks in an airy warehouse where constant temperature fluctuations and changing climate conditions would age the whisky faster than usual.
The distillery itself proudly proclaims that the 4,000 year old cooking technique uncovers “the deepest notes of [Mexican] ancestral ingredients”, and that:
There is no whisky in the world with a process or taste profile like this.
Today, we grab ourselves a bottle and find out just how unusual this Mexican whisky is.
First thing’s first- just look at the bottle. The design makes this worth buying already. It is heavy, rectangular, and of dark tinted glass with an irregular slate-like texture. The eggshell-coloured label adds a wild-west saloon vibe to the design. Regardless of how it tastes, I would be displaying this bottle somewhere at home as an ornamental conversation-starter.
Appearance-wise, the whisky is a pale gold colour with very thin legs.
Starting with the nose, the aromas open with a rather clean but substantial solvent-y banana note.
Notes of fresh bananas.
This develops to light and estery floral notes. I’m getting a faint chrysanthemum and hibiscus aroma here. There is also a light honey sheen over the floral notes. The light floral notes are evocative of very mildly sweetened Hong Kongese snow fungus dessert soup (tong sui).
Faint chrysanthemum aromas.
Snow fungus dessert soup.
While most American corn whiskey (bourbon) have rather rich, woody, earthy and caramel-forward notes, the Abasolo falls on the opposite end of the spectrum with its clean texture and near-complete lack of any oak influence.
On the palate, the spirit is clean, light-bodied but complex, with some rather unexpected flavours that did not show up on the nose. The moment this touches the my tongue, I get immediate notes of sweet bananas and whipped cream as detected earlier by the nose.
Very quickly, the palate turns slightly savoury, with a note of sweet and juicy buttered corn-on-the-cob and freshly popped pop corn at the movies’.
The second sip reveals a mild dryness, accompanied by notes of leather and a distinctive scent of the brown paper takeaway bag from McDonald’s. Very similar to the scent one gets from dry un-toasted tortillas.
(Image Source: Stanovi)
A moderate degree of heat is then felt on the sides of the tongue, although with so much going on this comes somewhat as an afterthought.
The finish is relatively short, characterised by a fading note of honey and a growing damp vegetal note that smells very much like cooked asparagus. It is also somewhat akin to the aftertaste of tequila.
The fragrance and complexity of the Abasolo is quite memorable. It’s also amazing how much of the nixtamalization process can actually be tasted in a dram. A whisky that actually tastes like tortilla chips?! Who would have known!
These flavours are truly unlike any American corn whiskey I’ve tried. With its the light floral notes, fragrant corn and damp vegetal note, the Abasolo feels like a baby grown from the DNA of a Maker’s Mark bourbon, a Laphroaig and a Nikka.
I won’t guarantee every drinker would love the Abasolo because it is so incredibly unusual. But precisely because it is unusual, I would recommend every whisky drinker to try the Abasolo for themselves at least once. After all, this is the first of an entirely new whisky region of Mexico.
Memorable fragrance and complexity with an intriguing process to boot. Everyone ought to at least try a dram. Though, is this even whisky?